Random thoughts on Internet bandwidth

A decade ago when I worked temporarily for a company in Beijing, I had an interesting conversation with the CEO about Internet bandwidth (I intentionally avoid using the word Internet speed as it is likely to refer heavily on latency nowadays). It was a casual talk but I still clearly remember two arguments we made. He said: “Internet is like highway, no matter how wide you build the road, there will always be more cars that its capacity can handle”. It was hard to argue with him about this when we were all using dial-up modems and the company, by the way, developed Internet video conference products.

Today there is still no clear answer. On the one hand, 100Gb/s Ethernet is being deployed and will probably become popular soon (recall the time when 1Gb/s and 10Gb/s were out), even cellular network can easily beat wired home Internet connection just a few years ago.  Do not forget that Google Fiber is going to be available in Kansas City soon: that is 1Gb/s to home. On the other hand, applications like HDTV over Internet is probably going to become mainstream as well. So will the Internet Bandwidth one day become so abundant that we would not need to worry about it any more. Considering the following facts: during the last decade,

  • CPU performance doubles every 18 months (Moore’s Law)
  • Storage capacity on a typical PC increases roughly from 10GB (2001) to 1TB (2010).
  • Home Internet bandwidth increases roughly from 56Kb/s dial-up to 5Mb/s broadband.

The increase speed of Internet bandwidth is not a clear winner over disk storage yet, but my bet will be on that in the next decade, bandwidth will no longer be on our top concerns when building a new Internet applications.

The other argument we both agreed, and is already happening, was that one day we would be able to use Internet video conference on a commercial flight.