What is the definition of broadband?

Technically, the FCC defines broadband as 200Kbps. I am not sure when this number was first introduced but I don’t think anyone at the FCC has considered revisiting the number or ever thought about revising it.

This brings up the question of whether the numbers the FCC are providing us concerning broadband penetration are realistic. Leaving aside the question of how the FCC decides if an area has broadband (Alex Goldman did an outstanding job of providing us with the details behind that in this article.) I have to wonder what the numbers would look like if we were to raise the bar to 1.5Mbps as the accepted definition of broadband.

Let’s step back a minute and take a look at what the different service levels actually provide. To illustrate this point I am going to use the Microsoft XP Service Pack 2 upgrade that was released recently. This upgrade was critical for any user of XP that is connected to the net to provide protection for serious security flaws and other bug fixes that the original version of XP contained. As you can see from this link, the total size of this Service Pack was 266 MB!

At the current definition of broadband (200Kbps) it would take just over three hours to complete this download. During this time the user would not be able to use the internet for anything else to speak of as the entire connection would be in use.

Imagine a small company that has 20 computers running XP. Assuming the IT manager decided to download and install every computer at one time from their 200Kbps broadband connection it would take well over 60 hours to update the entire office. I do understand that it is possible to obtain a CD from Microsoft and that there are a variety of ways that could also be employed to perform this task but I would counter that these methods were only created because we do not have adequate infrastructure in place to get this job done in a timely manner using the existing broadband infrastructure.

Let’s move forward a step to the 1.5Mbps connection. Based on the link provided above, it would take roughly 45 minutes at T1 speeds to download this Service Pack for each computer. So, to do our fictitious office of 20 computers we would be looking at 15 hours or so at T1 speeds. Don’t forget, this is utilizing 100% of the connection.

As many of you know, a fair percentage of WISPs use T1s as their upstream connection. Using a business model that I know is commonly used, let’s take the scenario I created above and move our fictitious company into a medium sized industrial park that is lit up by a WISP using a T1 for their upstream connection. In our fictitious industrial park we have a total of 60 companies of which according to national averages only half have subscribed to the high-speed Internet service provided by our WISP. These companies range in size from one to two computer offices, through our twenty computer company, all the way up to one company that has 40 computers all running Microsoft XP.

Again, since I made up this little industrial park I am going to claim the average amount of computers per company is 15 and just to keep things simple we are going to say that all 450 of these computers run Microsoft’s XP operating system. We are also going to simplify this example by having all of these computers set up to download updates from Microsoft automatically and we are going to further mandate that every computer attached to our network is left on 24 hours per day. I do fully understand that this list of suppositions will probably never happen in the real world but I am going to state that given the fact this is a relatively small industrial park it is very likely that in a large park 450 computers running XP could very well be attached to a WISP deployment that is backed by a T1.

What does the math look like when each one of these computers decides to connect to Microsoft and download Service Pack 2? Here’s the math and I will tell you right now it isn’t pretty.

We have 450 computers all trying to download Service Pack 2 (all 266 Megabytes of it) at a 1.5Mbps connection. As you remember from the discussion above, it takes roughly 45 minutes for each computer to download the Service Pack. That gives us 45 minutes times 450 computers or 20250 minutes (337.5 hours) to complete the download! Ouch! To put that in perspective, that’s just over 14 days of continuous downloading at full speed to complete the job.

Well, I guess we need to look at a better connection than a T1, don’t we?

At 5 Mbps this download would take a four days to fully accomplish this task.

At 10Mbps (and let’s face it, not many WISPs provide this level of service) we would still be looking at a full weekend of downloading to get this one job done.

If that is the case, what would be the next level of practical service?

Verizon is in the process of rolling out Fios, which is their fiber to the premise service. According to Verizon’s sales literature Fios will deliver different levels of service ranging from 5Mbps all the way up to 30Mbps, priced at $199/month.

Let’s return to our company in the industrial park and their 20 computers. For the sake of argument, we’ll assume that Fios has already been installed in their office. In this particular instance (XP Service Pack 2) this job would take approximately 2.5 hours to complete – not too shabby given the alternatives. If our little company had the premium service offered by Fios (the 30Mbps level of service) the entire task would only take a total of 40 minutes!

Pretty good, right? No, not actually. In some areas of the world GigE service is available very inexpensively. My twelve year old son chats with a teenager in Germany who has GigE service. For the equivalent of $139/month, they get telephone, TV and high speed Internet! Compare that to the US model where we get TV, 3Mbps connection and telephone for quite a bit more than the $139/month it costs my son’s friend. I understand there are people out there that don’t believe this will effect our competitiveness, economically speaking. I wonder what color the sky is in their world? Having seen pictures of lower GI examinations, I am going to assume it is always dark in their world.

What does GigE connectivity mean to our twenty computer company in this Service Pack 2 scenario? The math works out to be the entire job would take a little under 2 minutes for the entire job to be completed.

I wonder if the statement, “Where do you want to go from here?” was really asking if we wanted to go faster.

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