It doesn’t take many to make much

One of Supercomm’s most interesting briefings came from Cisco. The system vendor released details of its Visual Networking Index Usage Study, which tracks current broadband usage. (It’s a subset of Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, which the company uses to forecast visually based—i.e., video-centric—traffic demands.)

According to Cisco, the average broadband connection generates 11.5 Gbytes of Internet traffic a month. The company adds that each month such connections access 4.3 Gbytes of visual networking applications, from online videos to social networking.

Needless to say, 11.5 Gbytes is a lot of bandwidth. What I found most interesting, however, is that Cisco estimates that the “top 10%” of broadband users generates 60% of total Internet traffic; the top 1% generates 10%. Clearly, Cisco’s statistics give new meaning to the term “power users.”

The fiber variable in this bandwidth equation becomes clear when we consider how relatively few broadband connections worldwide benefit from fiber to the home (FTTH) and fiber to the building (FTTB). The FTTH Council currently estimates that there are only 21 economies in which FTTH/FTTB reaches at least 1% of total residential subscribers. In only 11 of these does the total exceed 5%.

Certainly I would be foolish to assert that all of Cisco’s top 10% of users have direct fiber connections. But as FTTH continues its inexorable march across the globe and more businesses receive optical connections as well, the number of potential power users will increase dramatically.

Cisco currently estimates that average Internet traffic will grow by 5× between 2008 and 2013. Carriers looking to ensure that they can handle peak activity will actually need to plan for 7× growth, the company asserts. It seems clear to me that FTTH and FTTB will enable much of this growth—and that Cisco’s estimates may prove conservative if FTTH/FTTB penetration rates increase. For smart carriers, that means employing advanced optical technology throughout their networks if they don’t want to drown under the bandwidth tide.

Stephen M. Hardy
Editorial Director & Associate Publisher

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