Is Capacity Crunch Coming Soon?

• • Broadband, data transmission, industry trends

The internet is ten times faster today than it was a decade ago, and consumption is increasing almost as quickly as the technology. Your customers have smart homes and offices with high bandwidth cabling, and efficient accessories enabling them to download more content. Despite this progress, experts worry that at some point technology will no longer stay ahead of usage rates. In the industry, reaching the limits of global bandwidth is known as capacity crunch.

During those times when streaming video has to buffer, or when online games freeze despite available bandwidth, your customers are experiencing symptoms of the internet’s limits. These incidents may be unrelated to their home network, but rather a lack of capacity somewhere in the infrastructure that strains to keep up for a moment.

Unlike a physical highway where the limits are determined by the landscape, the limits to the information superhighway are not fixed. In fact, they change all the time. In 2013, experts speculated that capacity would be reached by 2017. In early 2015 this was extended to 2023, and later in 2015 researchers in San Diego announced that they could increase bandwidth to 2000 terabits per second (Tbps: 1 terabit equals 1000 gigabits). While 2000 Tbps sounds mighty fast, these speeds have only been achieved in labs so far.

Consumption Rates Are Up

According to the global internet communications technology (ICT) firm Ericsson, by 2022, there will be 8 billion mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide. Mobile broadband usage hits the physical infrastructure, so all of this connectivity will impact capacity.

Another area where consumption is accelerated is video. Today video accounts for 55% of the data on mobile networks, and it’s growing by 55% each year. Not only is the use of video on the rise, but with Ultra High-Definition and 4K TV growing in popularity, the amount of data required for video is increasing exponentially.

Major sporting events are cause for concern around consumption. For example, the 2014 World Cup football (soccer) game broke video streaming records and generated 213.6 terabits traffic.

Who Will Solve Capacity Crunch?

In 2015, some of the world’s top researchers met with the Royal Society in England to discuss the issue. At that time most of the world’s networks used standard single mode fiber (SSMF) links. Amplifiers were used to increase the signal, but they could only increase the signal so much without creating distortion or crosstalk.

Many experts are working on solutions to capacity crunch. The National Institution of Communication Technology (NICT) in Japan and the University of Bristol have been working together on Space Division Multiplexing (SDM) and Multiple Core Fiber (MCF). SDM uses different wavelengths to make efficient use of a strand of fiber optic cable. With MCF, multiple identical fiber optic strands work together. Combined, these technologies can deliver speeds of multiple petabits per second (Pbps). To put this into context, 1 petabit equals 1 million gigabits.

Companies that require massive bandwidth to function are stepping up and contributing to the infrastructure. Facebook and Google are backing a 120 Tbps subsea cable called the Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN) that will run from Los Angeles to Hong Kong. It’s scheduled for completion in May 2018 and will cost about $400 million. Facebook and Microsoft have partnered on a 160 Tbps cable from North America to Spain, and by 2019 these kinds of private networks will make up 39% of global traffic.

So far technology is keeping up, but it’s a close race. Sure, 160 Tbps and 120 Tbps cable is being installed today, but more than two years ago a soccer game created more than 213 terabits of data!

Imagine how much data will be generated during the next big game with more of your customers using streaming OTT services and Ultra High-Definition TVs. Is the sky the limit?