The Business of Bandwidth: Expanding Connectivity Into The Future

Telepresence robots have been making headlines lately. These machines are outfitted with wheels, wide-angle cameras, video screens, and are designed to be controlled remotely from a desktop application, thereby allowing offsite users a virtual presence at conferences and other gatherings. While offering the advantage of mobility around the office (as long as there are no stairs), even more interesting implementations are being considered, such as placing several of these robots in museums so that people can connect remotely and enjoy the exhibits virtually from the comfort of their own home. Similar ideas are being explored for schools, conferences, events, and other social events.

So what’s holding us back from this revolution of having remotely controllable telepresence robots everywhere? The answer is bandwidth. According to Suitable Technologies, the makers of the Beam telepresence robot, the minimum required bandwidth per robot is 500kbps for an image quality of 480p (not high definition, which begins at 720p). If we imagine 10 robots at one event, they would require a minimum of roughly 5Mbps of dedicated bandwidth to function properly. The issue is exponentially increased as we consider advances in use of technologies like the cloud, video streaming, and other advancing technologies.

The problem of bandwidth availability is exacerbated by the steady increase of internet-connected individuals over time. According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), about 40% of the worlds population will be using the internet by the end of 2013, up from 33% at the end of 2011. We can expect this number will continue to rise. Going against what we learn in economics, as bandwidth demand increases, the price/kbps falls. Although still relatively expensive in third-world countries, “the cost of fixed-broadband services has dropped precipitously over the past five years, declining by 82% if measured as a share of GNI per capita” according to the ITU report. In other words, broadband is becoming cheaper for companies to provide over time, and these few companies will be expected to increase the size and scope of their infrastructure as the future progresses.

We can also expect the broadband companies to continue their fight against internet neutrality. Even though the cost providing broadband is decreasing it is becoming more enticing for internet service providers to begin charging for a tiered system of online access where companies pay to give consumers faster access to their sites. This is a hotly debated issue that would be suitable for an entire blog of its own, and we’ll save the conversation for next time. If you’re interested in learning more about the issue (and you should be), check out this video and article about the subject on Huffington Post.

The point of this blog post is to ponder: what’s next? At this time the potential for an interconnected world seems limitless. For service providers like us here at ZumaTech, advances in bandwidth and applications allow us to serve our clients faster than ever before with capabilities such as remote connectivity, resource monitoring, cloud computing, and proactive support that can take place virtually anywhere. The primary thing holding new advances back is the bottleneck of bandwidth. Will the broadband companies keep up? If so, how will they take advantage of this as a business? What is up their sleeve?

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By Kyle Jasinski

Andrew Lopez
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