When we look toward the future, one thing is certain: Connectivity will be king.
This past year showed all of us just how important it is to have a reliable broadband service that can withstand high bandwidths for a prolonged period of time. And as we shift to a more technology-dependent world, that demand will only increase.
At a recent Fiber for Breakfast live video series, the leadership of Fiber Broadband Association’s Technology Committee presented new data illustrating the impact of emerging technology and application on bandwidth consumptions, and how the pandemic has permanently altered the need for broadband at home. In particular, the need for symmetric bandwidth as the pandemic has accelerated the need for greater upstream bandwidth with applications like Zoom video conferencing and collaborative online tools for work-from-home and online school environments.
“The pandemic has really accelerated our movement toward a virtual world by three to four years,” said John George, senior director of solutions and professional services at OFS and chair of FBA’s Technology Committee. “And that has a really important impact on the bandwidth required that we believe needs fiber to be viable—not just today, but in the future.”
In the past decade, upload and download speeds in the home have greatly increased. In 2000, most homes required a 1/0.2 Mbps connection. Now, most homes require 100/50 Mbps to power everything from laptops and streaming TV to cloud-based video games.
And that demand has been punctuated by the pandemic. Last year, upstream traffic doubled and downstream traffic was up by 23%.
By 2030, George said homes will need upward of 2 Gigabit upload and download speeds—especially as we adopt more virtual and augmented reality technology into our day-to-day lives.
“Both virtual reality and augmented reality will be life-changing, for both in-home use and for business,” George said. “In retail alone, 100 million consumers are expected to use AR this year to differentiate their shopping experience.”
Jeff Gavlinski, director of industry organizations at Calix and a member of the FBA Technology Committee, agreed. He said these new types of technology require significantly more bandwidth than our current applications. As more families find themselves logging into multiple devices at once—and are installing IoT devices for their home like cloud-based security systems—it’s going to create a huge capacity need in homes across the U.S.
Knowing this, fiber will be a necessity.
“We can see this reflected in actual speed test measurements that fiber to the home data rates are pulling away for both download and upload speeds, in particular for upload speeds where we’re seeing at least three to eight times higher upload speeds than other technologies including wireless,” he said. “We believe very realistically reaching 2 Gigabit symmetrical speeds by 2030. Fiber broadband is the answer here.”
Cultural shifts are also going to impact capacity. As the pandemic has pushed many to work from home for months, George said its more than likely not everyone will be returning to an office. Moreover, business travel is expected to decrease—meaning people will need strong internet connections to live and work.
“Many meetings are going to be virtual,” he said. “One-third to one-half of business travel will go away.”
Fiber networks being built today should be able to handle those higher speeds in the next decade, meaning increased speeds will not bottle neck in those networks. Gavlinkski said network operators should be building their networks now with those increased capacities of the future in mind, because if they are building to today’s standards, in a few years they will be obsolete.
“Technology use and aggregation is going to have a major impact on networks in the next decade,” he said. “As the technology improves, the bandwidth demand increases. Immersive cloud technology requires symmetrical speeds to support a rich experience.”
George said now is the time for network to providers to expand their networks and to ensure they’re futureproof. The pandemic has pulled Pandora out of its box. The days of customers settling for lower speeds and capacity are gone.
“I don’t see us going back,” George said.