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The Problem — IP-based Entertainment Services

Just a few Internet subscribers streaming movies at the same time can gobble up all the available bandwidth and bring a non-fiber network to its knees.

The gaining popularity of high bandwidth video entertainment websites such as Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu, as well as other video on demand (VOD) services collectively called IP-based Entertainment Services (IPES), are creating major headaches for small Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs), traditional small or rural ISPs, as well as the hospitality industry.

The trend in IPES is even bigger when you consider other entertainment devices that aren't computers. Devices such as Slingbox, gaming consoles, Roku's streaming player, IP HDTVs, streaming enabled Blu-ray players, and iPads are consuming huge amounts of bandwidth. Finally, pile on pier-to-pier file sharing, illegal movie, and television downloads it's safe to say that IPES is a force to be reckoned with.

A CNet article published online May 17, 2011 illustrates the impact that IPES is having with the headline “Report: Netflix swallowing peak Net traffic fast”:

Simply put, Netflix owns the Internet in the United States--or at least it seems it soon could. That's the word from a report out today from Sandvine (PDF). It finds nearly 30 percent of downstream traffic during peak period originates with the king of movie streaming and red-envelope mailing.

If that stat isn't staggering enough, consider that only seven months ago that metric had Netflix with 20 percent of downstream peak data packets, according to an earlier report from Sandvine. I'm no math genius, but my numbers tell me that if that rate of growth were to continue unabated, Netflix would literally swallow the entire Internet by the end of the year, forcing our national economy to focus even more on making money from seasons 1 and 2 of "Glee."

While ISPs with giant fiber optic infrastructure can easily handle these demands, small rural ISPs are in a real tough spot. These smaller ISPs usually have a small finite amount of bandwidth available and then are further restricted by their internal infrastructure. It really doesn't take much for a couple of power subscribers to affect every other subscriber on a network.

Additionally, many subscribers aren't that tech-savvy and expect to be able to simply plugin their new IP-based TV with a Netflix widget and have it work flawlessly. They'll call their ISP and want to know why their TV won't work or can't work with this simple task of streaming live TV. These devices place a huge burden on the small ISP and force them to educate their subscribers on what they can and cannot do.

The next hurdle for small ISPs, and all ISPs in the USA for that matter, is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and their vision of Net-Neutrality. No you can't prioritize traffic by protocol because, well, that would be prejudicial and unfair even if it's making your network unusable.

In summary, as more people drop their direct broadcast satellite or cable subscriptions and get their video streaming entertainment from the likes of Netflix or direct download, small ISPs can't support it without balancing the load against costs in an easy to understand manner. The bottom line is that “Unlimited Internet is a thing of the past!” at least in regard to IP Entertainment Services (IPES).

... the Dynamic Bandwidth Shaper provides online graphs for a subscriber's traffic ... We provide that link to our subscribers so they won't call tech support when they're trying to troubleshoot the reason why they can't stream any more video ...

River District Manager, Swift Wireless

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