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The Internet Communications The Almighty Buck

BBC iPlayer Bandwidth Explosion Bodes Ill For ISPs 249

Posted by kdawson
from the economics-of-broke dept.
penfold69 writes "Dave Tomlinson is one of the network gurus at PlusNET PLC, a Tier-2 ISP in the UK. He recently put up a blog post about the ramifications of the BBC iPlayer for the ISP industry in the UK. The post makes some very interesting reading regarding the bandwidth usage triggered by the iPlayer, and raises timely questions about the Net Neutrality debate. The Register also picked up on this story with a good review of who is going to have to pay for all this legal video streaming."
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BBC iPlayer Bandwidth Explosion Bodes Ill For ISPs

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  • Multicast? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Zarhan (415465) on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:28AM (#22514922)
    I always thought that BBC had Multicast-BGP arrangement with the participant ISPs? Isn't this perfect application for multicast? It would be nice if bandwidth would only be consumed once, and duplicated at branching points, not unicast from BBC's network to all customers individually.

    Skimming the article I couldn't find info on whether this is archived-videos type service like Youtube, or for streaming the same over-the-air broadcast that you could pick on normal TV - assuming the latter since the charts talk about "BBCW_1", (assuming these are channels).
  • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@g m a i l .com> on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:29AM (#22514940) Journal
    And sometimes demand drives supply.

    Speaking as an American, where all our telecoms basically conspire to screw the consumer and offer substandard bandwidth, I long for the day when the demand for bandwidth surpasses the ability of their crappy networks to handle it, sparking an all out bandwidth arms race amongst providers desperate to cater to the needs to demanding consumers. I dream of the slug-like cable and phone companies being driven under by agile local providers...It will get to the point where small networks will be able to compete, because the advantages of a giant infrastructure are of limited use in a local environment.

    So pardon me if I don't give a crap if the little ISPs are feeling the pinch. If they'd used a little foresight, they'd have plenty of free bandwidth.
  • Cost vs. Benefit (Score:2, Interesting)

    by the4thdimension (1151939) on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:31AM (#22514972) Homepage
    Push the cost off on the end-user and the ISP will benefit. All kidding aside, this would be a pretty huge non-issue if they sucked it up and went to fiber like they have been told to do time and time again. The problem here is capping bandwidth usage in areas where it was previously uncapped encourages users NOT to use a high-bandwidth service like iPlayer which is bad for the BBC's business model as well as many other downloading/streaming sites. Places which allow you to download music and movies legally for pay(iTunes for example)stand to take a huge business cut because people will only download the bear minimum.
  • Re:Multicast? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by IBBoard (1128019) on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:37AM (#22515048) Homepage
    The BBC iPlayer lets you download content for a week or a month after it was shown on the channel, as well as letting you stream it. The iPlayer then starts a background service (which is always running) which uses P2P to distribute the files you've downloaded to others. It saves the BBC bandwidth, but it does mean it'll chew your bandwidth allowance if you use it a lot or have Windows running and don't kill the process.

    Multicast would be a good idea for live broadcasts, though.

    Not that I actually use any of it - my wireless and 2GB cap wouldn't cope. A co-worker found the "always running, even when iPlayer isn't" service recently, though.
  • by MightyYar (622222) on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:39AM (#22515084)

    unless everyone at your house or office always listens to the same thing (kinda defeating the purpose, I would think)
    I think that the idea is if you receive the feed from the closest people on the network, avoiding the need for the ISP to use the more expensive connection to the overall internet.

    Of course, I think that the ISPs will just set up mirrors internally to accomplish the same goal. It HAS to be cheaper to mirror the BBC/iTunes/etc than to buy all that bandwidth. I don't think that the providers would object, either, since it reduces their costs as well.
  • Well.... Duh! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:50AM (#22515220)
    I have been concerned about this issue since 2002, when I was a cable internet installer and I happened to think one day, "everyone's going to need fibre to the home if all the media companies start streaming things on the net... who's going to pay for that!".

    Personally, even though I no longer work for an ISP, I don't believe that ISPs should be left holding the bag when it comes to upgrading their networks, becuase a whole whack of other compaines want to make money by streaming add laden videos. That's totally and completely unfair.

    Even today most web pages are cluttered with ads that serve no other purpose than to suck up bandwidth and slow down load times (really, use a text browser and see for yourself how fast the internet CAN be...), which only serves to make ISPs look bad. Take out the garbage (aka ads that hardly anyone actually responds to) and the net as whole would be faster. Take out the video, software, and music downloads too and we've a blazingly fast internet.

    If it were possible to create a secondary network that worked seemlessly for day to day actions, like HTML/XML/Forms web surfing, 2MB email and ftp tranfers, and another for the hardcore traffic then ISPs could pay for the day to day network and media companies could pay for the hardcore network. That would be fair.
  • Re:Multicast? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ford Prefect (8777) on Friday February 22, 2008 @11:57AM (#22515302) Homepage

    This is distributed in two ways: the first is a flash video player, modelled on youtube, that shows the videos low-res in a browser window.

    In my suspiciously successful attempts at using this aspect of iPlayer outside the UK, I discovered the actual video data being sent from an Akamai-controlled IP address. So presumably, if ISPs want to control bandwidth usage from this source, they'd just need to host an Akamai node thingy?

    The video quality for this 'lesser' iPlayer is still pretty good. I clocked it at about 100kB/s (i.e. ~800kbit/s) - it looks okay fullscreen if you're using the computer as a telly. Haven't tried the Kontiki thing yet - I've been doing this on my Macs...

  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:04PM (#22515422) Homepage
    I don't know if Americans will have such a huge demand for bandwidth anytime soon. I spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe, and there people get around the lack of CDs and DVDs for sale legally (and their lack of money) by downloading huge amounts of music or films, ever-expanding their tastes and knowledge of the canon of art. Meanwhile, a lot of my friends in the U.S. have responded to the high price of CDs and DVDs by simply not buying much music or film these days, but when the occasionally feel like seeing or hearing something new they just get an authorized copy.
  • Absurd (Score:3, Interesting)

    by damburger (981828) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:14PM (#22515572)

    Firstly, non-UK slashdotters should realise that PlusNet is a pretty lame ISP by most peoples standards, and doesn't have a huge number of users, so can't be taken as a reliable data point.

    Secondly, the whole philosophy behind IPlayer is fundamentally flawed. I am a linux user, who pays the three-figure license fee every year. How dare they say I can't use BBC content I have already paid for how I like? I understand that Auntie gets a significant amount of revenue selling its content to overseas networks - but this is unrelated to the Internet. You can't regulate Jonny American downloading the latest episodes of Dr. Who but you can certainly regulate how much an American TV network must pay to show it. The Beeb is listening too much to traditional media types who don't fully grasp how the internet works. They don't understand to have a public TV service (a fantastic thing in my opinion, and most Britons agree with me) you must allow unrestricted downloads. Britons downloading BBC content are simply utilising what they already pay for. Foreigners downloading the content are extending the reach of British culture. Forcing it through a proprietary system is ridiculous.

  • by Shakrai (717556) * on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:29PM (#22515786) Journal

    They make more money oversubscribing their bandwidth and not giving you what you pay for

    There's nothing inherently wrong with over subscription -- it would be pretty stupid to pay your Tier 1 provider to provide a dedicated 3.0mbits for Grandma who only wants to check her e-mail -- the problem starts when they try to cheap out and use a bad oversubscription ratio.

    To be fair, a few years ago nobody could have seen the rise of p2p (though foresight should have predicted the rise of streaming video), so that probably changed the ratios they should be using. I lose all sympathy for them though when they whine about how much money upgrades cost.... most of these outfits (here in the states anyway) are literally swimming in profit. It's not as though they are running their businesses in the red and can't afford to invest in upgrades.

    Beyond that, I really don't understand this push to "shape" p2p traffic. Wouldn't it be much more fair to just give your customers the highest amount of bandwidth that you can provide them with and allow them to use it as they see fit? What's the damn point of raising the speed again and again if you can't actually provide it to your end users?

  • by Shakrai (717556) * on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:42PM (#22515982) Journal

    It's not just the ISP, but the last mile technology used.

    That excuse only goes so far. There are ways with DOCSIS networks to mitigate this. The easiest way is to allocate more channels on the HFC plant to HSI services. A more expensive option would be to split your network into smaller nodes so less customers are connected to each coax segment.

    Cable and DSL came about with the assumption that most people download way more than they upload

    That's still a valid assumption, even with p2p. I leave all my torrents running until I've hit at least a 3.0 ratio, but at the end of the day I still download more data then I upload (mainly due to streaming video). I have often wondered why there isn't a provision with DSL (dunno if it would work with cable) to dynamically shift the bandwidth as needed between upload and download. It doesn't seem like that would be technologically impossible to achieve.

    A few people paying for 10M/1M service in a cable node can easily take down the entire node.

    Hell, even at 5M downstream it takes less then eight users to peg the DOCSIS node. At the end of the day though, the ISP shouldn't be offering that tier of service if they can't actually provide it.

    Time-Warner Cable (iTunes throttling, byte metering)

    Actually, the argument that I heard about Time Warner is that they are more scared about streaming video undercutting their cable business then they are about being able to provide the bandwidth. If that's actually the case then I find that hugely ironic -- they've been beating up on the telcos pretty badly by pulling people away from POTS and onto their VoIP product. It would be poetic justice if they found one of their key revenue streams threatened by new technology.

  • by ps236 (965675) on Friday February 22, 2008 @01:08PM (#22516526)
    All ISPs give DSL lines with a contention ratio. That means that several users share an certain amount of bandwidth. So, a typical 'home user' contention ratio may be 50:1. So, there are 50 users sharing a 'block' of bandwidth. This is well known, and typically described when you are buying a DSL connection.

    Usually that's not an issue, most of the users won't be using the internet at the same time, and most of the ones who are will be doing low bandwidth things like browsing websites or downloading email. The issue comes when large numbers start doing high bandwidth things such as streaming or file sharing.

    If you aren't happy with that, you could buy a business DSL connection, which may have a 20:1 contention ratio (that's what I do). It costs about 3 times more than a home user connection, but I potentially get 3 times more bandwidth (as well as no 'fair use' limits)

    I suppose if people wanted it, ISPs could provide a 1:1 contention ratio, but how many people would be willing to pay 50 times more than a home user connection for that? You could get a T1 leased line for that sort of price.

    So, you do get what you pay for, and as long as ISPs honestly publish their contention ratios, it's your own fault if you don't get what you wanted.

    Contention ratios are generally a good idea to give people fast internet connections at a lower cost. If ISPs do traffic prioritisation fairly (eg the first 1/50th of the bandwidth block that you use has a higher priority than any excess) then I don't see that anyone has any right to complain (ISPs or customers). This doesn't need to be against net neutrality, you don't prioritise based on the type of data, just the amount.

    Usage limits are another issue, and I *do* get annoyed when you get adverts like 'Unlimited Internet for £15 a month' and then in tiny writing "(fair use limits of 20 GB per month apply)". These should be cracked down on IMHO, but contention ratios are sensible and fair.

  • by Lonewolf666 (259450) on Friday February 22, 2008 @02:11PM (#22517688)
    The dishonesty is reason enough to be annoyed with them. Actually, I think the behavior of some ISPs borders on fraud and it could be much worse for them than a few people hating them:
    They could get sued (happened to Comcast recently, sorry I can't find the link anymore) and maybe end up having to pay large damages.

    There is also another way of offering 20mbps and not have it overused:
    Sell 20mbps for the first 50 Gbyte/month and make the limitation clear in your advertisments. Throttle those who exceed it to dial-up speed... and announce that in advance as well. That would make it a fair deal, and anyone who still runs into the limit won't get much sympathy from me ;-)
  • by TheLink (130905) on Friday February 22, 2008 @02:26PM (#22517956) Journal
    But they need to ship it to London or Manchester so the snoops can look at stuff when they want to.

    Maybe much of the money you are paying isn't going into upgrading service for customers, but into equipment to make the snooping easier ;).
  • Re:Absurd (Score:3, Interesting)

    by itsdapead (734413) on Friday February 22, 2008 @02:38PM (#22518184)

    (Sorry for the "and another thing" post - workus interruptus)

    They don't understand to have a public TV service (a fantastic thing in my opinion, and most Britons agree with me)

    The other snag is that "media convergence" - the point in the not-too-distant-possible-future when there ceases to be any meaningful distinction between a networked computer and a TV set - completely and utterly buggers the BBC's "levy funded public service broadcasting" model.

    At that point, the only business as usual solution is to extend the TV license to computers and/or broadband connections: and that my friends ain't never going to happen because not only would it be genuinely unpopular but you'd also have MurdochCorp (who see the BBC as a govenment-subsidised competitor) lobbying and astroturfing against it like mad.

    The BBC is trying to be pioneering in its use of the internet (and even multi-channel digital TV) so that they don't appear "obsolete" but there doesn't seem to be any new income stream to support this. Without root-and-branch rethink on how they are funded, I think they are doomed in the long term. Sadly, the political solution seems to be "what elephant?" and death by a thousand cuts - which is a shame.

    PS: On the DRM front, remember that the BBC doesn't "own" most of its content either - it faces a rats-nest of licenses and agreements with production companies, actors, composers, writers and other broadcasters (a lot of the good shows are co-produced with Canada, Australia or the US). I wouldn't be surprised if the incentive for using DRM is pressure from some of those groups - with whom the BBC needs to do business to survive.

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