Tag Archives: netflix

Video downloads and all kinds of uploads driving Internet bandwidth demand

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Video accounts for 58% of Internet traffic worldwide, according to a new report by Sandvine, an Internet technology and research company based in Waterloo, Ontario.

Netflix accounts for nearly one-fifth of all the user download traffic in the Americas – more than any other company or protocol category – and five percent of all user upstream traffic. That makes it the number one bandwidth demand driver in this hemisphere. Netflix is in third place on the user upload side, behind raw video – surveillance cameras, for example – and bit torrent. Apple is also capturing a significant share of upstream traffic, with its iCloud photo service accounting for 3% of bandwidth. Netflix’s upstream consumption was unexpected, according to the report

MPEG (video cameras/surveillance) and HTTP media streaming (many different live streaming services) make sense, but why Netflix? Netflix is constantly “bookmarking” your location; as users browse the library, Netflix interactively starts video previews, which has had a huge impact on the upstream. This has made video a major player in the upstream, even with social networking video having less impact than expected on networks…

iCloud Photo Stream makes the first appearance for an Apple product as well as a storage application, illustrating the popularity of mobile photos that immediately get uploaded to the cloud. Photo traffic is also part of the Google number from Androids. There are also lots of VPNs in the Americas, as IPSec is 10th on the list at 2.65%, representing both business users and privacy VPN services.

Mobile operators seem to be hardest hit by the increasing demand for bandwidth, in either direction. They’re responding by giving users incentives to consume less…

It also bears mentioning that the number of mobile operators managing video traffic by offering unlimited viewing for reduced resolutions, which is also depressing the volume of video traffic worldwide.

Encryption continues to grow in popularity, too. Sandvine reports that more than half of the world’s Internet traffic is now encrypted.

Live sports, new production, high bandwidth will drive 4K adoption

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

The killer app.

There’s not much true 4K ultra high definition content available right now, and it’s going to take time for inventories to build.

Sony Pictures has about 75 feature films and fewer than 100 television episodes available now, according to Rich Berger, senior vice president for advanced platforms at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

He was the only representative from the production side of the business at a panel session on 4K content at CES yesterday. The rest were all from distributors, which included Netflix, DirecTv, Comcast, M-GO and the Blu-ray association.

Berger said that Sony gets 4K content in two ways: either producing it directly in an ultra HD format, or re-mastering it from sufficiently good 35mm film. Up-converting existing HD programming doesn’t produce acceptable results. At least for for most.

“We have a clear content spec. It’s either full 4K resolution or it’s not ultra HD”, said Phil Goswitz, senior vice president of engineering at DirecTv. “Anything originally shot in HD just isn’t 4K”.

“We’re purists”, agreed Chris Fetner, director of media engineering for Netflix. “Anything with a 4K label was produced in 4K”.

Comcast, though, isn’t as picky. “The more content the better”, said Michael Schreiber, Comcast’s senior vice president for content acquisition. “If it happens to be native that’s great. If it happens to be up-converted, that’s great”.

There are many feature films that can be turned into true 4K content, but that’s not enough. “If you look at HD adoption, the movies arrived first”, said Gozwitz. “But what really drives the adoption by customers in large numbers is sports”. He specifically mentioned the NFL – a key DirecTv programming partner – as one of the organisations that has to commit to ultra HD technology in order for it to grab hold in the consumer mainstream.

Bandwidth requirements are going to be steep. Panel members agreed that current 4K contents needs a minimum of 15 Mbps, although M-GO COO Christophe Louvion said that near term compression improvements will bring that number down to maybe 12 Mbps.

Blu-ray, on the other hand, plans to have a 4K format ready later this year, with products based on it maybe available by next Christmas, according to Victor Matsuda, CFO of the Blu-ray association. Aiming to be the reference standard for ultra HD content, Matsuda said they’re looking at 128 Mbps.

Consensus: 4K streaming needs 15 Mbps, for now

by Steve Blum • , , ,

“You’re going to need bandwidth speeds in the range of 15 Mbps,” said Michael Schreiber, SVP for content acquisition for Comcast. Ultra high definition content would still flow at a lower speed but “it wouldn’t be a 4K experience”. He was responding to a question about 4K bandwidth requirements at a panel session at CES this afternoon.

Netflix’s Chris Fetner agreed, saying their 4K content runs at 14 to 15 Mbps. Christophe Louvion from M-GO also pegged 15 Mbps as the current minimum, with the caveat that new compression algorithms will bring that down.

Verizon FiOS doesn’t have an edge over cable in Netflix rankings

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Netflix accounts for a third of the Internet traffic in North America, so it’s not surprising it has something to say about how well Internet service providers perform. Whether or not the ISPs appreciate the input. Netflix just updated its speed index of U.S. wireline and fixed wireless companies and, not surprisingly, Google Fiber tops the chart. On the average, Netflix viewers connecting via Google Fiber do so at 3.4 Mbps.

Of course there wouldn’t be many of those, since Google Fiber’s reach is very limited. More interesting is the 6th place ranking of Verizon’s fiber-based FiOS service. Judging from Netflix’s experience, FiOS isn’t significantly better than cable modem service, coming in at 2.2 Mbps, behind Cablevision (2.4 Mbps), Cox and SuddenLink (2.3 Mbps) and tied with Charter. It’s barely ahead of the rest of the cable pack, which come in around 2.1 Mbps.

Advanced DSL services come next, with AT&T’s Uverse the best of the lot with a 2.0 Mbps average. Legacy DSL is about half a megabit slower, and the single fixed wireless provider – Clearwire – is dead last at 1.2 Mbps.

The Netflix index doesn’t really measure the overall speeds that broadband users are getting. Measurements are affected by factors such as other household traffic, home network performance and the kind of devices used. But it’s a fair basis for comparing how different companies and technologies are able to handle the Internet’s biggest bandwidth hog.

On that measure, Verizon’s fiber implementation doesn’t provide an advantage over cable. Google’s does, but the question is whether it can maintain that edge as subscriber density increases. It’s a contest to watch.

Netflix and YouTube are still eating the Internet

by Steve Blum • , , ,

And the hits just keep on coming.

One-third of prime time Internet traffic on North American wireline networks is generated by Netflix viewers. Another third comes from other video sources – legal and otherwise – and anything else people do on the Internet accounts for the remaining third. That’s according to the latest semi-annual report by Sandvine, an Internet technology and research company based in Waterloo, Ontario.

Mobile viewers, however, prefer shorter videos on YouTube, which accounts for 27% of peak mobile download traffic, as well as coming in second place on fixed networks at 1%. Netflix’s long form programming only accounts for 4% of mobile download traffic, seventh on the list.

BitTorrent-based peer-to-peer traffic of more doubtful provenance is falling behind legal streaming from Netflix, YouTube and the like. It’s fourth on the download list, with about 6% of the total. On the other hand, about a third of the upload traffic on North American wireline networks is still generated by BitTorrent file sharing.

Probably not so coincidentally, the heaviest one percent of users also account for a third of the upload traffic. The study doesn’t come to any explicit conclusions, but the inference is clear: the small fraction of users that do a lot of uploading are more likely than not primarily engaged in file sharing.

On a monthly basis, the average North American household downloads 39 GB and uploads 6 GB. That’s a 39% increase compared to a year ago. But heavy users skew those numbers too. Half of North American households download 16 GB and upload 1.3 GB a month or less.

Sandvine’s research more confirmation, if any were needed, that the continuous growth of Internet traffic is driven by video consumption.

Satellite first, FTTH (much) later

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Not all crazy ideas are crazy.

Netflix is talking about delivering ultra high definition content to its subscribers, using the 4K video format currently under development. Real time streaming of 4K content will require something like a 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps connection. Or it could be downloaded, over time, to in-home hard drives at slower speeds.

Either way, it would strain existing networks. A gigabit is only possible with fiber. In theory, cable modem service can support 100 Mbps speeds, but only for a very limited number of homes in a given area and only intermittently over long periods of time. Just supporting a constant 10 Mbps stream for a day or two is problematic.

That’s why any nationwide 4K content distribution is likely to first come via satellite.

HBO, for example, could make a satellite stream of 4K content available to a national market of 120 million homes today, for more or less the same cost as deploying that service via a cable or FTTH system that serves a town of 20,000 homes. Even if you factor in the cost of the satellite capacity, it’s still in the same ballpark as building a small FTTH system.

Satellite companies, such as DirecTv and DISH, were the first and most aggressive HDTV content providers in the late 1990s. They made satellite broadcasting’s economies of scale work to their advantage. As more homes bought HDTV sets, the balance starting tipping toward cable companies and they upgraded plant, so they could provide HDTV within their systems, first on a broadcast basis and then, as HDTV penetration grew, as an on demand service.

Eventually online companies, like Netflix, got into the HDTV game. But only because demand for megabit-class Internet service grew to the point where it could be deployed to and adopted by the majority of U.S. homes. HDTV was only one of many factors driving that demand.

It will take ten to fifteen years for the price of 4K technology to drop and consumer adoption to rise to current HDTV levels. At that point, it will be a demand driver for FTTH networks. In the meantime, look to satellite companies to lead.

HBO legend sees a long road to 4K television

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Zitter didn’t just look into the future, he made it.

Bob Zitter, HBO’s revered chief technology officer, retires this month, ending more than thirty years at the cutting edge of television technology. In a valedictory keynote at the TV Connect conference in London, Zitter expressed near-term skepticism about the future of 3D and 4K television technology, but held out long term hope.

HBO tried offering 3D content, but Zitter said they never believed in it. The stumbling block is the need to wear special glasses, something consumers don’t want to do at home. “3D with glasses is dead“, he said, according to reporting by Television Business International and others at the event.

Screen size will limit any future market for 4K technology, an ultra-high definition format that doubles both the horizontal and vertical pixel count, he thinks. In order for resolution that fine to make a difference, the screen needs to be in the 60 to 70-inch range. Some consumers have enough room in their homes, but most don’t. Given current technology.

And that’s the key. Thin screen technology – think wallpaper or paneling – would change the equation if it’s ever developed. So would using 4K technology to eliminate the need for 3D glasses, according to Zitter. It’s not happening anytime soon. Despite showcasing demo units, glass-less 3D is ten years out on Samsung’s road map.

It’ll take ten to fifteen years to fully bake ultra-HD technology and move it into the market. That was the HDTV experience. Along with HBO and others, the company I was with in the 1990s – U.S. Satellite Broadcasting – tested and promoted HDTV for years before equipment prices dropped and consumers started buying it in volume.

Netflix’s public embrace of 4K notwithstanding, HBO is better positioned to capitalize on it when the time comes. As a satellite-based distributor, HBO can plausibly deliver the necessary 100 Mbps-minimum real time streams to a national audience, albeit on a broadcast basis.

Now, who was the guy who put HBO into the direct-to-home business? And pioneered the technology? Yeah. Bob Zitter.

Netflix making consumer case for gigabit service

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Building a business on 4K content.

Netflix is throwing its weight behind the new 4K ultra-high definition video format and, once again, potentially disrupting the broadband industry. Neil Hunt, chief product officer at Netflix, told The Verge “we expect to be delivering 4K within a year or two.” Sony has also floated the possibility of supporting 4K services in future networked products.

Network routers won’t start melting under the strain anytime soon. There’s not much content that meets the 4K spec yet. HDTV, by contrast, had decades of filmed movies and television shows to draw on. Hunt is only talking about having “at least some” 4K movies ready in a couple years, not the entire Netflix library.

The format doubles both the horizontal and vertical pixel count of the best HDTV standard currently available. The result, in raw form, is terabyte-scale content. Compression technology and other improvements could bring file sizes down, but even the most optimistic predictions are in the 100-plus gigabyte range.

In round numbers, you need a gigabit connection to watch a terabyte-sized movie in real time. A 100 gigabyte program takes a 100 Mbps pipe. Either way, fiber is the only technology that can support mass market streaming at those speeds.

Assuming the 4K standard gains traction, it’ll be a while before it hits the mass market. If you can find one, you’d pay somewhere in the $25,000 range to buy a 4K display this year. If prices drop and units sell like HDTV sets did (a big if given the need to build content from scratch) it’ll be ten to fifteen years before it’s a no-brainer purchase at Costco.

Nevertheless, it makes me eat my words. Last year I unwisely said until we’re talking about something like real time in-home genome sequencing, nobody is going to need a gig.

It’s not here yet, though. Gigabit-class Internet subscriptions will follow 4K technology adoption, not lead it. It’ll be years before building fiber to existing, served homes on a pure pay-as-you-go basis is feasible in all but exceptional circumstances. But for investors – public or private – willing to bear the cost now, there’s finally a plausible upside story, albeit decades away.