The State of Broadband 2020

As of this writing, if you’re micro enterprise, you really don’t need much more than 10 Mbps downstream.  Typically, you’ll get 5 Mbps upstream with your internet plan.  Both will meet the demands of most of what you want to do. In the US, broadband is considered at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream per the FCC.  What’s of significance to Cyber Defense Contractors is the upstream figure of 3 Mbps.  We feel it’s an often-overlooked value.  Bravo to the FCC.  The US had not been keeping pace with other countries. They now are.  ISP’s had no need to adopt higher speeds because nothing was pushing them.  Not even the coming adoption of OTT video was a driver.  Upping speeds means infrastructure changes. It would have impacted their bottom line.  Business is business.

How Much Bandwidth is Enough?

The number of users is NOT the sole benchmark that should be used to judge how much bandwidth you need.  Unless you foresee five or so users watching high definition video simultaneously on separate devices you don’t need more than the 10 Mbps downstream I mentioned. Right now, a single video stream is typically going to require 1.5 Mbps to 3 Mbps. 

The number of clients is often used by ISP’s when guiding customers on what plan to purchase. In most cases, one can forgo that guideline because there’s much more to the equation.  I’ve heard statements such as, “for 10 users you need 300 Mbps downstream”.  Early in my career, I had 300 users running off a T1 at 1.45 Mbps. Were they streaming video? No.  But everyone was surfing the internet and complaints were few and far between.  The likes of 300 Mbps is a lot of bandwidth.  It’s well positioned for the introduction of 8K video streaming but still may very well prove to be more than what is needed.  It’s too much to pay a premium for now. Unless you’re providing an internet service that requires the associated upstream bit-rate.  ISP’s do not have a la carte plans when it comes to downstream and upstream for consumer grade or micro enterprise grade plans.  You may need the bandwidth on the upstream side if you’re sending your data back-ups or surveillance video to the cloud. Still, you probably do not need more than the 5 Mbps they give you on the lower priced plans.  Video at the egress is going to stream at the typical 1.5 Mbps – 3 Mbps bit-rate.  Your data back-ups at the egress are probably “differential” so it would be a reach for you to need more than 5 Mbps.

For the micro enterprise to small business it all depends on what they’re doing with their technology and their use of the internet or private network.  If you are networked with business partners, it becomes a different story. Your bandwidth requirements should then be assessed by a professional.  Most ISP plans come with contracts these days.  Don’t get locked into something that is too much especially if you’re on a budget.

What About the Home User?

If you’re a home user, you can stream Hulu or Netflix over 10 Mbps. Really? Yes. Some of you may have done it with your mobile hotspots.  However, you probably quickly learned that mobile providers don’t have hotspot plans that fit this scenario well.  With 30 Gbps and 50 Gbps data caps you’re going to run out of data quickly.  The introduction of 5G service isn’t going to prove any better considering what we’re seeing from T-Mobile.  Their 5G plans are still capped at 50 Gbps although their bandwidth is more than 10-fold what 4G can provide.  Boost Mobile offers a 4G service such that if you hit your cap you can “re-up” by paying for your monthly plan early and get another bandwidth allotment.  Your recurring monthly payment date is then adjusted. This seems like a prudent business strategy and if not already adopted by the other providers it may be adopted in the near term.  What is it that they know? They know you’ll oversubscribe your plan.  T-Mobile is inching closer to blanketing the US with 5G but with caps like that it doesn’t have the shine we had hoped for.  As an aside, Boost Mobile is a subsidiary of Sprint so technically would become part of the new T-Mobile. We will eventually see 5G caps move upward as the mobile providers begin targeting the home user, micro enterprises, and small businesses.  Mobile providers such as Verizon, AT&T and the new T-Mobile will be competing directly with Cable providers like Comcast, and Cox.  Still, 100 Gbps and 200 Gbps caps are possible and don’t sit well with us.  Either way there will be caps so don’t cut the cord just yet.

It’s also worth considering that with 4G and 5G communication we’re dealing with radio’s rather than wired connections.  This is wireless after all.  Packets transmitted over radio’s have their own negative characteristics, so it won’t necessarily be a primary solution for latency sensitive applications. I could be proven wrong on that.  Additionally, the perspective of Cyber Defense Contractors has always been that wireless communications should be avoided if possible.  It creates a large attack surface without walls as barriers.  Think about that.

The 1 Gbps plans that the Cable DOCSIS 3.1 standard is providing is going to provide the bandwidth necessary for at least a decade.  Companies like Comcast are locked in.  However, in the event that the micro enterprise or small to mid-market enterprises start requiring greater than 1 Gbps, which I do not foresee happening in my lifetime, it appears DOCSIS 3.1 and DOCSIS 4.0 are ready.  They can provide 10 Gbps downstream data rates with 1-2 Gbps upstream and 10 Gbps upstream respectively. Fiber providers, like Verizon FIOS, and Google Fiber will be able to provide that bandwidth too. 

The bandwidth available is superseding the need at this stage. Unless you’re talking about the data center, cloud services, and the large enterprise you don’t need much. Consider that some mid-market and all large enterprises are more likely to purchase discrete lines or Ethernet services (MPLS, DMVPN, etc…). To the home consumer, the micro entperise, or small business, and most mid-market businesses they don’t need that kind of bandwidth.

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