The rows over how broadband providers will cope with the increasing amount of video traffic we are all consuming continues today with the news that the BBC is to make BBC1 available as a live stream at some point in the next few months.
The BBC has tested multicast streaming for the last couple of years which means one stream can be watched by many thousands of people at once but the bandwidth consumed across peering links is roughly the same as just one person viewing the content rather than 1000s of individual streams. Whether this latest roll-out of BBC1 streaming will utilise multicast technology is unknown as the trials revealed problems with ADSL routers not always supporting multicast.
While multicast is touted as a solution to broadcasting live TV over the Internet, with the most popular broadband model which relies on a core ATM network from BT Wholesale, the savings would only be in moving the traffic from the BBC to the broadband providers. The most expensive part of the connection, which is getting the data from the broadband provider to the 5,500 exchanges around the UK, would simply not benefit from multicast technology in today's network structure.
While the BBC is often seen as the body that will cause broadband prices to rise, it should be remembered that the BBC is not the only source of live video. BBC content generally has scope to be massively more popular than for example live music concerts on Facebook or Myspace.
The biggest danger for broadband providers with live TV is that if an event is popular, and more than 3 or 4% of their customers choose to watch it at the same time, then all the capacity into the provider from exchanges will be swamped. The existing catch-up TV services that stream content will generally be spread out over a larger time frame reducing the chance of all the capacity being used for a single task.
So what of the future? From the popularity that video over broadband seems to have it is not going to go away, and while price rises could mean providers can cope better, the price increases likely to guarantee us the ability to do whatever we all want when we want it would be prohibitive. The average consumer is not going to pay £80 or more a month for their broadband even if they can watch TV over it. Distributing the video to servers that are in the telephone exchange at at one of main regional nodes could reduce the costs enough to make it feasible, but also begs the question of who should pay for it? TV companies? the consumer? broadband providers?
Providers with traffic management systems in place will be able to manage the traffic levels from any single one application to avoid services like gaming and web browsing stopping completely. Could providers extend this system to downgrade viewing quality or show a holding screen to users advising them there is insufficient capacity and how would users react?