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Living with Technology / How far can bandwidth be stretched?

I was having lunch with a friend the other day. The discussion of bandwidth came up -- at home, on our phones, whether it will be metered and the like.

Bandwidth in this discussion was the speed of our connection to the Internet.

We started chatting about what happens when we have lots of bandwidth. For example, when we were on dial-up phone lines 20-plus years ago, email was about as much as we could do. And sending a large attachment was a real pain.

Generally, as bandwidth increased, we started doing things like making phone calls with Skype.

I recall some of my early experiences making phone calls over the Internet. While an interesting technology, the sound quality was pretty poor. Certainly not something I'd give up my regular land line to use frequently.

As the available bandwidth increased, from dial-up to DSL to cable, so did the tools that we use.

We now have very rich websites that display lots of graphic images, a large part of the population uses the Internet to make phone calls.

And the biggest chunk of Internet data usage are services like Netflix and YouTube that stream extremely large files for extended periods of time.

For the above, I'm just referring to home usage.

We also need to consider smartphone usage.

Mobile phones used to be just for making phone calls and texting each other. Now we call mobile phones smartphones because they're far more than phones. In many cases, the phone feature is more a feature of a tablet than a phone with Internet access.

But phones are the fastest growing segment of the market. People aren't buying more and more home computers. The ones being purchased are generally replacing older ones.

And while smartphone users are generally replacing their phones every two years in sync with their contracts, the percentage of people buying smartphones for the first time continues to grow.

One of the reasons for smartphone growth is that they ARE more than just a phone. They serve as people's GPS when they drive around, they check their email, they watch Netflix and YouTube, they post pictures on Facebook, Pinterest and more. Read Full Article 

Each of these consumes large amounts of bandwidth.

Wireless companies are struggling with providing enough bandwidth for all of their users. Because they're wireless, the available spectrum is finite, although technological improvements continue to allow us to squeeze more bandwidth over the airways.

Back at home, cable companies can provide virtually unlimited Internet speeds, since their services are provided through copper cables or optical fiber. Need more bandwidth? Lay another cable!

Here in Connecticut, the typical maximum bandwidth available to home users is through Cablevision which offers their Optimum Ultra service which can deliver about 100 Mbps download. However, there are some locations in the U.S. and abroad that have "gigabit" speeds (1,000 Mbps) -- 10 times what we have.

I never imagined what I would even do with the bandwidth speeds I currently have, but now that I have it, I really like it.

I'm really looking forward to having gigabit speeds available. I'm looking forward to what will be able to be delivered with those speeds. I guess I haven't found the limit to how much bandwidth is enough.

Mark Mathias is a Westport resident and has worked in information technology for more than 30 years. His "Living With Technology" appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at: livingwithtechnology@mathias.org

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