The Driving Demand for Bandwidth in the Home | Corning

Is the Internet of Things (IoT) driving bandwidth demand?

By Jason Zelley
Published: December 14, 2021

The Internet of Things (IoT) has become a mainstay in our lives, especially within the home. These days, if a device plugs into your wall, there’s a version that also taps into the Internet. Many of us have bought things like smart doorbells so we can watch our holiday deliveries arrive. Did you also know you can buy a Wi-Fi connected dishwasher, blender or toaster? Not kidding, look it up.

From a network operator perspective, the increased adoption and ongoing integration of IoT into our homes means an increased demand for bandwidth. However, the relationship is nuanced and complex: While IoT is requiring more bandwidth, the availability of more bandwidth is also encouraging greater proliferation of smart, always-connected devices.

Here’s an interesting history lesson. During the execution of the Rural Electrification Act (REA) of 1936, electric cooperatives partnered with appliance manufacturers to offer discounts on appliances for farmers and other rural customers. This was strategic in that more appliances meant more demand (kilowatts) for power, which in turn meant more revenue to offset capital expenses for electric providers building out to rural customers. This means more connected devices and demand for bandwidth is good for Internet service providers too, right? Not quite.

Managing increased bandwidth usage isn’t always a simple question of “more.” Let’s go back to the smart doorbell example. A doorbell with a built-in motion sensor and camera can relay a video feed back to you at the swipe of a finger, but that capability isn’t always active. Unless there’s movement at your front door, or you go into the app connected via your phone, that system remains dormant and therefore only generates short bursts of bandwidth demand, not continuous demand.

We begin to see the real impact of IoT on bandwidth when we start to factor in the number of devices simultaneously connecting to a network. One person streaming a movie may not have a noticeable effect on bandwidth usage, but when you account for multiple family members plugging into the network – or hundreds of tenants in an apartment complex or dormitory – the network can quickly become saturated.

Entering a new era of connectivity in the home

This boom in bandwidth demand we’re witnessing within the home isn’t slowing down. COVID-19 forced many of us deeper into a virtual world, whether for work or school, and service providers were left slogging it out in the trenches to increase capacity. Today’s demand is here to stay and will only increase. Many jobs are now hybrid – if not entirely remote – and people expect the same or better connectivity as they’d have in the office.

For a long time, bandwidth demand has been mainly in one direction – downstream. These days, we must look at both the inputs and outputs going on in the network. Interactive applications, such as mobile gaming or video teleconferencing, are pushing and pulling high rates of data every second.  We’ve likely all gone through our emergency procedures while in a virtual meeting and experiencing a poor connection – disconnect from the VPN, turn off your virtual background, turn off your video, switch your audio to your cell phone, etc. – all in an effort to cut down on your upload demand so you can see the presentation that’s being downloaded.

This push and pull of bandwidth adds up to an overall need for better network infrastructures. The main challenge service providers face when building out infrastructure rapidly is meeting the demand of today while future-proofing their networks for the long term. What does it even mean anymore to have a “50-year network”?

How to determine the best network architecture

Let’s go back to our REA history lesson. The business model for electric companies benefited from an increase in consumer demand because they specifically charged for more demand. However, Internet subscription plans aren’t usage based, and most have a flat rate and are extremely competitive. This means providers are faced with increasing capital requirements to meet bandwidth needs without an equivalent increase in revenue. Combine this with the loss of video revenue due to consumers favoring streaming services and you have a compounding impact on revenue versus capital expense.

A key consideration for service providers is developing a network architecture that will grow with the increase in connected devices and the bandwidth they require, all while keeping the revenue to capital ratio under control. Our team at Corning is committed to helping customers find solutions that meet today’s needs but can also be upgraded later on without requiring a complete overhaul and, you guessed it, more capital.

Fiber, and specifically specialty optical fibers, play a key role in building efficient, effective and future-proof networks. Copper-based infrastructures are simply not sustainable, produce weaker connectivity and will eventually have to be replaced at a substantial cost – not to mention copper’s high operational cost. By investing in a fiber-based system now, service providers can achieve longevity, adaptability and lower total cost, all while avoiding regrettable spend. Corning has been a leader in the fiber space for years and continually sets the industry standard for service and solution offerings.

While the array of options available can be overwhelming, our team works closely with customers worldwide to determine which solutions best fit their needs rather than applying a one-size-fits-all approach. Networks must be tailored to the specific needs of consumers and robust enough to meet current demand, but also flexible enough to grow into the future as IoT drives a wave of demand that is unlikely to recede.

Jason Zelley is Market Development Manager for Carrier Networks, focused on Tier 2 and 3 carriers and any provider committed to rural broadband deployments. Within Corning, he has held roles as Product Line Manager for Fiber Optic Cable Assemblies and Chief of Staff for Corning’s Emerging Innovations Group. Prior to joining Corning, Jason was a Major in the United States Marine Corps where he served as a Weapons System Officer, flying the F/A-18 Hornet. He holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of South Carolina and a MBA from Cornell University. Jason is devoted family man and spends his spare time woodworking or flying recreationally.

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