Who Gives A Gigabit?

Over Labor Day weekend, an email exchange unfolded with a former cable guy, Dave Archer, who now heads Nevada’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology in Reno.

The gist: He’d been contacted by a reporter who was wondering if Reno was less attractive to high-tech companies because it doesn’t have Gigabit broadband services.

“At some point in the conversation, I told him that wanting fiber to your home was like wanting a 747 to go to the grocery store,” he wrote. He added, “Then I realized I’d used that same analogy — in 1980.”

Archer asked for some links to prior columns on the topic, so I sent him five or so, plus some basics on “how to do the math” of estimating household bandwidth usage. It seems useful to pass that along.

Know going in that there’s a big caveat in any discussion involving the relative “weight” when shipping video over broadband: Compression engines. They keep getting better, which changes the math. Regularly.

Let’s say, for purposes of this discussion, that HD video compressed with MPEG-4 weighs about 3 Megabits per second, and that the same video compressed with MPEG-2 weighs 5 Mbps. (Expect violent disagreement on these numbers, should you choose to use them. Consider them a starting point. You’ll still win!)

Tablets, smartphones, laptops, PCs and their ilk use MPEG-4 compression. It’s newer than MPEG-2. There’s another one coming, “HEVC,” for High Efficiency Video Codec. It’s the capacity antidote to 4K/Ultra HD video.

TVs connected via a set-top box use MPEG-2 compression, as well as a completely different distribution path. But let’s throw them into the mix anyway, because we still won’t get anywhere near a Gig!

Picture a big, broadband-slurping house. In it are five HDTVs, all streaming live video via set-top boxes. That’s 25 Mbps.

Add five laptops, also streaming HD video, for another 15 Mbps.

Lots of people in this house! Add 10 tablets, all streaming video, for 30 Mbps.

What the heck. Let’s pile on more laptops. Ten more, all streaming video. Add another 30 Mbps.

We’re up to 100 Mbps. A Gigabit is 1,000 Mbps. That’s an order of magnitude difference, literally, by this math.

Does Reno need a Gig to be sexy enough for high tech? Probably, but not for any reasons of logic. Perception is reality, and the reason the reporter called in the first place is proof of that.

Still, wanting a Gigabit per second is like wanting a jet ski. For the kiddie pool.

Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis attranslation-please.comormultichannel.com/blog.