The Friday Interview: Dave Quane, Nortel

23 May 2008

Chief technology officer for Nortel EMEA, Dave Quane (pictured), talks about the increase of high-definition video on the web and whether this demand will kill the network

You have talked about ‘internet brownouts’ as a result of massive amounts of video on the net – will this increase in the future?

Carriers are currently presented with a challenge due to the growth of social media sites. Then, in the near future, add to this real-time telepresence, high-definition video and unified communications.

This whole combination is what Nortel calls hyper-connectivity and these two forces coming together are creating huge challenges for carriers as we go forward.

The numbers tell the story: recent research from Bernstein showed that downloading half an hour of TV on the web consumes more bandwidth than 200 emails a day for an entire year.

The amount of traffic last year on YouTube alone was greater than all of the internet traffic seven or eight years ago: that’s a staggering amount of growth. One thing I think we’re all in agreement on is that it will only grow and grow from here.

If networks need to be upgraded to take all this video, who should be footing the bill for the upgrades, the network providers or the content producers?

There are some interesting commercial conversations playing out at the moment over this very issue: who should pay for this, the carrier or the content owner, and this is very interesting to sit back and watch. BBC recently came under fire from ISPs for its iPlayer service.

The only thing clear to me is that whatever the solution is, it must be solved and it will be solved. They will get their heads together because ultimately there is money for both players here and the key thing is the demand is real and driven by consumers and businesses alike.

When do you see the beginning of internet brownouts due to bandwidth strain?

I’m not sure we will see an absolute grinding to a halt but certainly we will see significant speed and performance issues. This is analogous to cars driving smoothly through a town and as soon as you hit the motorway you encounter traffic jams, particularly at certain times of the day.

There are all sorts of obstacles, on-ramps, off-ramps: this is the way the internet is structured. It was never originally built for the kind of uses we see today: high-definition video, video on demand etc.

Another study from an independent analyst firm suggested that the amount of investment required to build new capacity was something in the region of US$137bn and I’m not talking for the next 20 or 30 years. This is to cope with video by 2010.

Service providers will not be able to cope unless we see greater investment – or more innovative ways of using that investment – and that is where Nortel thinks it will play a significant role.

Instead of pumping more and more money into extra bandwidth, a carrier needs to ask how they can invest in the network. Nortel looks at taking a provider’s existing network investment and putting more traffic and bandwidth through that with some of its technologies such as PBT (provider backbone transfer).

By Marie Boran