Who Needs A Gig?

Thanks in large part to the efforts of Google Fiber, and all the hype that goes with them, 1 Gbps represents the speed target that most ISPs are now shooting for, regardless of whether the vast majority of consumers actually need it in order to fulfill their video streaming needs and other broadband-intensive tasks.

CenturyLink does offer 1-Gig to residential customers in some areas, but likewise believes that 100 Mbps provides plenty of headroom for even the heaviest use-cases.

The company spent some time discussing this on its Q2 call on Wednesday, and presented a slide showing a use-case in which 75 Mbps was enough to handle two 4K streams, four HD streams alongside some other Internet activities.

“As you can see, even in this relatively high usage case, which is well beyond the vast majority of users' activity, [those needs] can be met with speeds of less than 100 megabits,” Glen Post, president and CEO of CenturyLink, said. “And that aligns with our own experience. We see speeds of 40 megabits to 100 megabits as competitive today in virtually all of our markets.”

But he also acknowledged that the usage curve will continue to rise (virtual and augmented reality apps and services will take a big bite of bandwidth, if they turn out to be mainstream hits). CableLabs CEO Phil McKinney has previously outlined some potential use-cases for 1-Gig, such as a "fast synch" apps that require a massive burst of bandwidth, but not necessarily sustained 1 Gbps speeds.

“Certainly there be users who will seek the gigabit connection, but for the vast majority of consumers, we see 100 megabits or 200 megabits as being more than sufficient to meet market demand for a number of years,” Post said.

CenturyLink, which is starting to test usage-based broadband policies, expects to enable speeds of 40 Mbps or more to 85% of its top 25 markets by the end of 2018 (or about 10.5 million addressable “units”), and north of 55% of those markets (or 7 million units) with 100 Mbps-plus by that time. 

By the end of 2019, CenturyLink is gunning for 11 million addressable broadband-enabled units to have 100 Mbps speeds or greater, and about 3 million with access to 1 Gbps or more.

He promised that “a lot of that improvement” will happen over the next 12 to 18 months.