On Upstream, 'Half Fast'

If you live in a Verizon FiOS market, you’ve likely seen the video ads denouncing upstream speeds other than theirs. If not, here’s the gist of it: Families, at home, surfing the Web but running into slowdowns when posting music and video. The tagline? “Stop living with half-fast Internet,” voiced by Modern Family’s famously funny Ty Burrell, a Verizon spokesman.

On the one hand, “half-fast” is a brilliant and funny play on words, not unlike Kmart’s “shipped its pants” campaign, or the lesser known but still funny pairing of “sofa” with “king,” to emphasize how very … anything … something is. (“That is sofa king good.”)

As someone who perennially frets about the state of the upstream/home-to-head-end signal direction, on the other hand, it’s another reminder about the growing plausibility of symmetrical network traffic — meaning an environment where as much stuff flows out of a home as flows into it.

For the longest time, now included, we’ve not really had a need for symmetry. Think about it. When you click to retrieve a Web page or to initiate a video stream, that click is tiny compared to what comes back. In general, and at any given time, we’re using way more downstream capacity.

For me, the first vestige of the potential for upstream capacity calamities came last spring, when my colleague Sara set up a chicken incubator at her farm. She used a paper clip to kickstand an old iPhone, which live-streamed the incubation action.

It was a forehead-smack moment: Video is big. Webcams stream it. Uh-oh, upstream path. Cameras that stream become part of the machine-to-machine scene, consuming bandwidth in ways not before seen.

Then, this year, the GoPro camera craze intensified. It won’t take too many of them, strapped to the dog’s head, or the kid’s bike, to gum up the upstream path.

The bandwidth-keepers in my circles assure me (repeatedly) that from a normal traffic- loading perspective, we’re nowhere near the need to build for network symmetry — or as much data moving away from you as toward you.

That said, there’s no shortage of gadgetry in our lives that can capture and stream video, especially those that can be triggered to run remotely — you’re at work, but someone rings the doorbell at home. Who is it? See for yourself, via a live video stream.

One thing is certain: We can expect more video running upstream, coincident with the webcams and GoPros we use. That alone will contribute to a tilt toward symmetry.

As a result, the widening of the upstream path will likely go from “not in my lifetime” — the decades-old answer among technologists — to lots more trial expansions next year.

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