The growing trend of streaming movies over the Internet for real-time viewing on the lounge room family TV is thought to be a major culprit in clogging up the world-wide Internet links. This, along with the Internet caching algorithm issues that have been occurring for about five years (and nobody seems to know how to fix them at this stage), have caused a significant general slow down in the Internet.
Streaming movies and TV series for real time viewing from sites like Netflix or Hulu cause traffic issues because for every person watching a movie from Netflix or Hulu (or other media streaming sites) there is a continuous traffic stream from the provider to the viewer. So if a million people were watching streamed movies or TV show replays then there are a million data streams running from the sources to the viewers for as long as it take to watch the show.
Also—as people have paid for it—the quality of the video being streamed is of relatively high quality which means more data has to be streamed with a typical streamed 1.5 hour movie being about 2.5GB of traffic. If the user selects the Hi-Def version then the amount of traffic will be higher.
Downloading movies and TV series using P2P file sharing technologies like BitTorrent is nowhere near as network bandwidth heavy as streaming—although downloading obviously does generate Internet traffic. P2P downloading has less impact on the Internet pipes because:
- Most (if not all) P2P file sharing technologies are very smart when it comes to working out where to download from. They hunt around and continually, even while the file is being downloaded, try to find the closest network nodes to do the downloading from.
- P2P file sharing technologies download files by getting bits from multiple source locations and each of these source locations can throttle how fast they let people suck file data off their computer. In most cases the speed at which they allow data to be pulled off their computer(s) will be 20 to 30% of their full available upload speed.
- When it comes to downloading P2P files people will generally be satisfied with files that have higher levels of compression applied. Hence when downloading a 1.5 hour movie the file size is likely to be at least half the size of the streamed file (or smaller) for the same movie.
- With downloaded files the person downloading them does not watch them until the download has completed, no matter how long that may take. Unlike streamed content where the person viewing it needs it to download uninterrupted because they are watching it as it comes down and any interruption will stop the movie playing.
- With downloaded files if you want to watch the movie or TV episode again then you don’t have to download it again. Depending on the plan you have with your streaming media provider, if you want to watch something again you will generally need to stream it down again.
If we are to believe the experts then streaming services are going to become more and more popular. A big point is that streaming services are legal whereas downloading movies and TV series using P2P file sharing is illegal.
So, unless someone suddenly works out some way to quadruple the network capacity of the Internet in the next few months then we can expect the general overall speed to gradually degrade.
I can recall when I first started doing stuff for the Internet back in the days before the WWW (World Wide Web) and we all had to have the skills to make sure anything we ‘put on the Internet’ was as small as it could possibly be. If you were posting pictures then you made sure they were sized down to an optimal size and were down-sampled (colour depth reduced) as appropriate. So a 5MB picture might end up around 200KB. These days there is a view that the Internet has no limits and can handle anything; and the rules relating to keeping things ‘small’ and fast have been forgotten or discarded.
It is going to be interesting to see how the Internet copes over the next 5 years as the number of people using it skyrockets and the amount of data being moved around increases beyond all forecasts.