There’s more network traffic at 4K levels, but can growth be sustained?

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Home field advantage.

The prospects for widespread adoption of 4K television technology and programming – often referred to as ultra high definition – are slowly getting better in the U.S. According to Akamai, which just released its State of the Internet report for the second quarter of 2015, about a fifth – 21% – of U.S.-based users on its network are running at 15 Mbps or better, which ranks 18th best in the world. That’s the minimum service level needed to stream 4K programming.

California does better than that with 26% of Internet connections on the Akamai content delivery network measuring 15 Mbps or faster, which would put us at 14th internationally, with about the same adoption rate as Finland and the Czech Republic. As with Internet speeds, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan rank first, second and third respectively.

South Korea is particularly strong when it comes to 4K capable homes, more than half – 53% – clear the 15 Mbps benchmark. That gives South Korean manufacturers in general and Samsung in particular a big competitive advantage. The ability to field test new products in the home market, where high speed broadband adoption is robust enough to support significant content production as well, will boost development of the technology.

The U.S. and Californian figures are encouraging, but might also be misleading as well. The more people that buy service packages at or above the 15 Mbps level, and the more they start streaming high bandwidth 4K programming, the more clogged local and long haul infrastructure will become. It’s one thing for a relatively small fraction of users to occasionally hit high speeds. If that becomes the norm for streaming traffic, though, core infrastructure, from the neighborhood level on up through connections at Tier 1 Internet exchanges will have to be upgraded to handle the volume and avoid complete logjams.