‘I Want the One With the Big Gbs!’

DENVER — Nothing like a fresh batch of data about broadband usage, topped off with the start of the World Cup — always a streaming-video gauntlet — to check in on the Hype Central category that is Gigabit services.

The fresh data comes from Cisco System’s annual Visual Networking Index (VNI), released last week, which slices trends in broadband every which way — and serves as a perennial reminder to learn the nomenclature of big numbers: Petabyte, Yottabyte, Exabyte. (Refresher: A Gigabyte (GB) is 1,000 Megabytes (MB); a Terabyte (TB) is 1,000 Gigabytes; a Petabyte (PB) is 1,000 Terabytes; an Exabyte (EB) is 1,000 Petabytes, and a Zettabyte (ZB) is 1,000 Exabytes. Woof.)

Note: Those are measures of storage volume. Gigabit services, popularized by Google Fiber and AT&T, are measures of speed. Which makes this Cisco VNI nugget all the more notable: “Global broadband speeds will reach 42 Mbps (Megabits per second) by 2018, up from 16 Mbps at the end of 2013.”

One Gbps is the same as 1,000 Mbps, in other words. Globally, we’re somewhere between 16 and 42 Mbps over the next few years. (That’s about two orders of magnitude off from 1,000 Mbps.)

The point: There comes a time, and we’re pretty much there, that things can’t load or behave noticeably faster.

The topic of “Gigs” was a centerpiece discussion during last week’s 20th annual Rocky Mountain SCTE Symposium, where lead technologists from Charter Communications, Comcast, Liberty Global and Time Warner Cable dove into the options for “getting to a Gig.” Refresher: The entire carrying capacity of a modern (860-MHz) cable system, if every channel were empty and available, is slightly more than 5 Gigabits per second.

Getting there, technologically and operationally, is rife with options. There’s the next chapter of DOCSIS, 3.1, and there’s a vendor community bursting with ways to take fiber deeper towards homes. (The vendor displays this year were “a lot more about glass” than in years prior, panelists noted.)

Has the time come that the cost comparison between DOCSIS 3.1 and fiber-deep strategies is close enough to parity for serious examination? No, panelists said. (Emphatically.)

Nor is the Super Bowl the harbinger of peak traffic loads in IP, even though it’s the most-watched television show (108 millionish viewers). This year’s “March Madness” NCAA men’s basketball tournament set Time Warner Cable’s new capacity peak for streamed video. Exact numbers weren’t disclosed; it was “more than 10s of Gigs,” said TWC engineering fellow Louis Williamson.

Comcast’s highest peaks come from its “Watchathon weeks,” when all programming is made available over IP. “They generate at least four times normal volume,” noted Allen Broom, vice president of IP video engineering.

Do Gigabit services matter? Sure. Should operators drop other technology priorities to build it? Google “red herring.”

Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis at translation-please.com or multichannel.com/blog.