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  • Writer's pictureTeresa Mastrangelo

Do we really need Gigabit Broadband Speeds? Eventually.

The great debate continues on whether or not consumers really need gigabit speeds.  Let’s take a look back on a few other times the industry underestimated the market:

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home” – Ken Olsen, founder of legendary minicomputer company DEC

and of course, the equally famous,

“640K should be enough for anybody” – Bill Gates, Microsoft Founder

On the other hand, operators can take a more pragmatic view of the market:

“If I bet wrong, I didn’t break the future of this business,” – “For a company of this size, $4 billion is very little money. If I bet wrong, it’s not much money for us to burn.” We’ll just switch gears and go fiber-to-the-prem,” – then COO Randall Stephenson, AT&T

But perhaps, the market is best summed up by Amara’s Law, which states:

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”

There is no argument that demand for faster speeds continues to grow – and as speeds increase – applications and services will and do adapt to utilize that bandwidth.

Are there consumer services and applications that need gigabit speeds? No, not yet; but they are coming, judging by the number of “accelerators” that are popping up in gigabit enabled cities.

All of the mediums (copper, fiber, wireless, cable) offer upgrade paths that can enable significant bandwidth increases – with many enabling gigabit speeds.  Some make more sense than others – whether it is a time to market issue or a cost issue – but the upside is that there are options.

The number one priority of every operator  should be to make broadband 100% available – by whatever means necessary – fixed or mobile.  And according to the UN – it should be affordable – which may mean that not everyone should have or needs gigabit broadband.

There is no “universal” broadband speed target – in fact the definition of broadband varies widely from country to country and organization to organization.

Even the Broadband Commission has not defined ‘broadband’ in terms of specific speeds.  Rather it views broadband as a cluster of concepts:  always-on, high-capacity connectivity enabling combined provision of multiple services simultaneously.

And perhaps that is the right approach.  Maybe the debate should not be a fiber vs. copper or wireline vs. wireless or even Telco vs. Cable MSO.

Each operator will need to make network upgrade decisions based on their own individual circumstances – costs, competition, demand for services, etc.

And for many it will be FTTH based – so why not offer 1Gb?  Whats the harm?  If it ignites competition to upgrade – that is a good thing for everyone.

When will we need 1 Gigabit speeds? 2 years, 5 years, 10 years?  History has already demonstrated that technology typically moves faster than most people anticipate – so my advice to operators:  plan for it.


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