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Bandwidth: How Much is Enough?

Mar 14, 2007 8:00 AM

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Just how much bandwidth do corporate AV users need in order to achieve the mission of their AV systems? And when will that bandwidth be available?

The answers to these questions are taking shape fairly quickly these days, given the rapid rollout of fiber connectivity to business premises and homes and the advent of technologies that enable high-quality video, including high def, to move quickly over these lines.

The Fiber-to-the-Home Council (FTTH) recently issued a call for the United States to be a “100 Megabit Nation” by 2015, with broadband connections delivering that much capacity to the majority of Americans by 2010 and to all citizens by 2015.

"When it comes to broadband, America has the need for speed, the need to compete, and the technology at and to make it all happen," says FTTH Council President Joe Savage. "If we are to preserve our global leadership in the information age, we must look beyond our current broadband capabilities and begin moving now toward next-generation networks with vastly superior capabilities than are widely available today. We can start doing that now by establishing a national broadband strategy."

An FTTH statement adds, “There is already a demonstrable need for next-generation broadband networks to transmit video and other high-speed services, applications, and content to and from America’s citizens.”

The phrase “to and from” is a key for the business community, because its needs go far beyond the basic consumer desire to view movies at home.

Full two-way connectivity will support telepresence and other business AV applications that require high-quality, full-motion video to move freely among business locations. Last winter, for instance, VBrick CEO Rich Mavrogeanes commented to AV Over Fiber, “Being able to deploy two-way broadcast quality video really changes things.”

FTTH is impatient with the pace at which this change is approaching, however. “At the current pace of deployment, all Americans will not have globally competitive access for decades,” the council says. “This is an intolerable situation.”

Although the prospect of selling video on demand to consumers along with data and voice services may be the pot of gold for players like telcos, the corporate AV world focuses on conferencing and collaboration. Consumers, after all, don’t generally want to send as much data as they receive. (Although users of YouTube, which didn’t even exist a couple of years ago, now upload more than 100 million personal videos every day, according to the FTTH Council.)

Corporate users, though, want their video and other data to move in many directions at once, among branch offices, telecommuting sites, and other locations all over the country, and possibly all over the world.

To achieve the full promise of telepresence, corporate AV systems must transcend the connectivity limitations of their wide area networks.

Moving high-quality MPEG-2 video over a network requires 4Mbps of data-carrying capacity, according to Mavrogeanes. For an enterprise relying on a WAN background, or perhaps connected to the outside world by 1Mb T1 lines, that’s a prohibitive commitment.

But if the 100 Megabit Nation becomes a reality, a corporate network might easily sustain multiple connections at 4Mbps and make only a relatively small dent in its available bandwidth.

Nationwide carriers are at work on a variety of upgrades to their fiber backbones. Lines that currently meet Optical Carrier (OC) 48 specifications, and can carry 2,488Mbps are being upgraded to the new OC192 spec, reaching capacities as high as 9,953Mbps, and the FTTH Council says the even more capacious OC768 is on the drawing board. These high-capacity lines are the foundation of connections among ISPs.

All of this capacity may be necessary just to keep up with demand. But as it rolls out across the nation and the world, it will create exponentially expanding opportunities for corporate communications, as well as for the AV integrators who support those missions.

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