Will video break the web’s backbone?

8 May 2008

Video may not have killed the radio star after all, but it will increasingly become a threat to the web’s infrastructure if networks do not begin futureproofing now, said Dave Quane, CIO of next-generation network providers Nortel for the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region.

With the explosion in popularity of bandwidth-hungry social media sites like YouTube and Facebook, consumers and businesses are increasingly downloading and streaming internet TV and video, which places a significant strain on networks designed before the social media momentum gathered such pace.

“If you look at current social media and then look at adding to that challenge with real-time telepresence, high-definition video and unified communications – the whole combination of demand for video and what Nortel calls hyper-connectivity.

“Those two forces coming together are creating huge challenges for carriers as we go forward,” Quane commented.

The numbers tell the story, he said, pointing to recent figures from Bernstein Research which said that downloading half an hour of television-quality video on the web consumes more bandwidth than sending and receiving 200 emails per day over 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. Now that is a staggering amount of growth and one thing we are all in agreement about is this is just going to grow and grow.”

The question is: could this exponential rise in consumption of video over the web lead to an internet blackout?

“I’m not sure we will see an absolute grinding to a halt of the internet. However, there will be significant speed and performance issues.

“It is like seeing cars moving fairly smoothly through an urban area and then when they hit the motorway, they get stuck in traffic jams, especially at certain times of the day.

“That is the way the internet is structured: it was never really built for the kind of uses we see today, like high-definition video on demand,” explained Quane.

Unless carriers employ more innovative ways of investing in the internet’s backbone, they will run into problems, he said.

“Nortel can play a significant role in solving this. Carriers will think ‘How can I invest in the network, while not just adding more and more of the same?’.

“Nortel looks at how it can take an organisation’s initial investment and put more bandwidth through it.”

Provider backbone Transport (PBT), which is an element of carrier Ethernet from Nortel does just this, as does the company’s optical 40GB and 100GB services.

As Quane observed, while we cannot predict what the next big bandwidth challenge will be after video and social media, one thing we can be sure of is there are people out there creating innovative ways of challenging the structure of the internet.

By Marie Boran