Thursday, August 19, 2010

Profiling broadband usage: FCC Broadband Performance Report 2010

As mentioned in my previous post, the FCC recently published their 2010 Broadband Performance Report. This categories US broadband users as fitting into one of four types:
  • Advanced: These consumers use large amounts of data and tend to use the highest quality voice, video, and other cutting-edge applications.
  • Full media: These consumers are moderately heavy users of broadband and mobile applications, seeking to access high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video communications but, typically not in the most cutting-edge forms.
  • Emerging multimedia: These consumers utilize some video and graphical content but still see the Internet primarily as a way to communicate and access news and entertainment in a richer format than found in offline content.
  • Utility: These consumers are largely content to access the Internet for basic news, communication, and basic entertainment.
I think these categories provide a very useful framework for considering current and likely future bandwidth usage and demand. The report recognises not only that each category will primarily use a particular "basket" of services, but that this basket will change over time as new services emerge and users' familiarity and confidence in accessing broadband services increase.

These categories also echo the National Education Network's technical strategy paper Building a Broadband Entitlement, which categorised schools' broadband users similarly:
“Schools that fall into the Web Browsing category would be visiting sites that have fairly static text and images.They could be visiting their Learning Platform, but won’t regularly be using embedded videos or streaming media.The school will also be sending emails that do not regularly have attachments.The school will rarely be uploading information or participating in wikis, blogs and forums.
Schools that fall into the Mixed Media category are doing everything that those in theWeb Browsing group are doing but are also embracing the use of streaming media and may have video conferencing facilities.They may be using a digital learning resource such as Learning City or Espresso within scheduled lessons, rather than pupils using it within all areas of the curriculum on a daily basis.The school will also have the ability to video conference, but will not be doing it on a daily or weekly basis.The school may also be uploading content to sites beyond the school and pupils may be exploring more collaborative tools such as wikis, blogs and forums.
Schools that fall into the Multi Media category have embedded a Learning Platform or digital learning resource into their teaching and learning practices. On a daily basis pupils will access rich multimedia content online.This will involve streaming of videos and/or music and the use of video conferencing on a regular basis, maybe on a whole class event or potentially more than one conference at a time. Pupils in this environment are not only consumers of digital content, they will regularly be creating multimedia content and uploading and sharing it.The use of collaborative tools such as wikis, blogs and forums are a regular part of the school day.”
The NEN paper defines broadband entitlement as comprising a core service set (connectivity, applications and safeguards) which should be delivered in accordance with a set of delivery principles (such as transparency, scalability and value for money). It's well worth a look. To return to the FCC report, this provides three very helpful illustrations to help qualify its broadband consumer profiles. The first illustrates actual download speed demands (Mbps) by different content and application types:

The second shows the performance demands (throughput, availability, quality of service) for different types of applications:

And finally the third shows the actual download speeds necessary to run concurrent applications (Mbps):

In many ways this last one is the most important, in that it shows very clearly how current high-end applications that currently have only limited takeup might migrate to the left, as it were, as use of such services increasingly becomes the norm.

Which brings us to the heart of the broadband policy issue: how confident can we be that bandwidth availability will scale to keep pace with increasing customer demands and expectations? Especially the increasing demand from customers that have been left high and dry by market developments to date?

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