A new study conducted by NL Kabal and Cable Europe, which is a trade association for cable operators like Virgin Media, has boldly predicted that in around 6 years’ time the average consumer demand for broadband ISP download speeds will reach a staggering 165Mbps and uploads of 20Mbps. Miles above today’s current average.
According to the report, the average “sufficient provisioned speeds” were estimated as 15.3Mbps (downstream) and around 1.6Mbps (upstream) in 2013 and the demand for bandwidth is expected to “grow exponentially” by 2020. The CAGR (compound annual growth rate) is stated as 40.3% for downstream and 43.9% for upstream traffic demand.
As a result it predicts that the estimated demand for daily upstream traffic in 2020 will average at just over 3,000MB (MegaBytes) per day, with total downstream demand for 2020 estimated as almost 8,000MB per day. The study also took account of the highest demand users (representing around 2% of all users and generates approximately half of all the upload activity) and predicted that this group will, in 2020, be “operating at 1Gbps download and 315Mbps demand for internet speeds” (bit poorly worded perhaps).
By comparison Ofcom recently reported that the average real-world download speed in the UK had risen to 17.8Mbps (up by +17.41% from 14.7Mbps in August 2013). Meanwhile the UK government wants 95% of the population to have access to speeds of 25Mbps+ by 2017 and the EU’s Digital Agenda target sets this as 30Mbps+ by 2020 (with 50% subscribed to a 100Mbps+ service).
In practical terms the best headline (advertised) speeds currently available in the UK on BT’s national network are, excluding their very tiny FTTP deployments (330Mbps), ‘up to’ 80Mbps via hybrid-fibre FTTC technology and Virgin Media’s cable (EuroDOCSIS/DOCSIS3) platform can reach 152Mbps. A handful of fibre optic (FTTH/P) ISPs can also deliver up to 1000Mbps, with KC doing 100Mbps+ in Hull using similar tech.
Said Caroline van Weede, MD of Cable Europe, said:
“The trend in consumer behaviour which lies behind these figures speaks for itself. Customers consume much more content than they produce. European cable companies are more than ready to satisfy these growing consumer appetites for internet speeds. The new DOCSIS 3.1 specification will deliver possibilities of 10Gbps downstream and 2Gbps upstream – a much wider capacity than even this research indicates. We’re future-proofed for the fastest connections and the most sophisticated applications.”
But will we really need all that speed? As with last year’s report from the Broadband Stakeholders Group (here), much of this depends upon how long you’re willing to wait for files to download and that’s always very subjective, varying from one person to another.
The BSG’s own report controversially suggested that a “median household” might only require bandwidth of 19Mbps (Megabits per second) by 2023, although many people misinterpreted this because the BSG were highlighting a methodology for testing predictions and this could equally be read in different ways for different situations and people.
Pamela Learmonth, CEO of the BSG, told ISPreview.co.uk:
“We are delighted to see that our report on bandwidth demand has prompted others to recognise the importance of this debate and to look into it further. Like our work, the Cable Europe report is a considerable piece of research and we are in the process of fully digesting it.
However, we believe that the difference in headline demand speeds could be due to differences in approach on the relationship between traffic growth and bandwidth growth. We have already put that question to the authors of the report and look forward to having a constructive dialogue on quantifying this very important area of research.”
On the other hand an earlier House of Lords Select Committee Inquiry claimed that “consumer demand for bandwidth is growing by around 60% a year“and predicted that broadband download speeds of 1Gbps (Gigabits per second) “may be needed” by 2020 (here). Suffice to say that everybody has an opinion, but right now many would be fine with just 10Mbps, although most of those might equally feel a demand for 100Mbps+; often regardless of whether or not it would have huge practical impact on what they do online today.
Ultimately different people will demand different things and the key is always with ensuring that the infrastructure you have in place can cope with those peak expectations. Clearly Virgin Media’s existing cable network is already most of the way there and their planned DOCSIS3.1 upgrade will deliver another boost. Meanwhile BT’s FTTC, with its highly variable speeds, is fine for today (unless you live at the end of its reach where speeds drop to 2Mbps+ levels) but by 2020 we’ll be expecting more and it remains to be seen whether their plans for G.Fast and FTTdp / FTTrN deliver upon the expectations.
Added a comment from the BSG above.