The Network of Networks was Built for Times Like These

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“All that was great in the past was ridiculed, condemned, combated, suppressed — only to emerge all the more powerfully, all the more triumphantly from the struggle.” – Nikola Tesla, “Tesla,” Passage Pictures, 2020

Sitting at home under semi-house arrest (hey, if it ain’t voluntary, it’s confinement), we took a break from a break and watched a movie on one of our streaming services.

The kids take this stuff for granted – some on the TV, better one on their iPads, Instagram or Qubi or YouTube on their phones. It’s nibbling, not consuming.

For them, it’s second nature.

They’ve never known, never had to deal with having to work for their connections and then have the data stream skip a beat now and then.

They never heard of a dial-up modem and thought we were so ancient having to deal with piddly 40-50 Kbit/s transfer speeds.

As they hopped between streaming services, we told them how Victoria’s Secret wanted to webcast their fashion show over the iNet in the late 1990s.

We reminisced how Push Mohta, Manny Robles and the CERFnet (California Education and Research Foundation) team checked every connection, every cable three times to ensure the 2M viewers got their show.

Every other ISP (Internet Service Provider) did the same to ensure the oglers didn’t hurt “their” fragile network.

The iNet stuttered a little but held.

Deep Secret – Ordinary folks “know” what the Internet is – the cable to the house or the microwaves that whiz stuff around our heads; but the real work is done by masses of cables that crisscross the ocean carrying business, commerce, entertainment to everyone.

Over the next 20 years, hundreds of thousands of miles of cable have been laid on the world’s ocean floors to connect nearly every continent (Antarctica relies on satellite), every country and 3.5B people.

The wired and wireless Internet was developed as a fast, reliable way to exchange serious commercial and governmental business. But a few adventurous souls thought that since video, movies and series were just another form of data; they could put all of that good bandwidth to use and stream content, bypassing the appointment TV folks.

Most felt streaming content was a waste of good business bandwidth.

And … it would break the internet.

Early on, it stuttered – a lot – but it held.

Streamlining Streams – Today’s efficient codecs enable delivery of quick, reliable and efficient streaming services to consumers devices. For most streaming services, the creative content is fine but it’s tech folks that keep things humming.

Since streaming content requires more bandwidth and more consistent throughput, the industry developed increasingly efficient codecs (encoders/decoders).

The encoder compresses the data to reduce the amount of bandwidth required for transmission while the decoder decompresses the data on the device for optimum enjoyment.

The industry and individual streaming firms continue to develop newer, better, more bandwidth efficient codecs to improve content distribution to your screen. Actually, they only do that, so you enjoy their stuff compared to the other guy’s stuff.

Of course, it also takes time for the movie/show you requested to get from say Los Gatos to your screen in NY City, Toronto, Paris or Melbourne so Netflix, YouTube and the world of streaming entertainment took a shortcut.

Yeah, it’s easier with appointment TV because the content is there at a specific time/day and if the screen isn’t on … tough!

To deliver what you want, where you want it and the instant you want it (gawd, you’re impatient), Netflix and the growing list of streaming services take advantage of CDN (content distribution network) specialists.

Firms like Akami, AWS, Alibaba, Tata, Google, MS and others strategically locate video servers around the globe so the show/movie can be delivered BAM! to your screen(s) almost immediately after you’ve made your choice.

Instant Response – All of the really hard work for serving up your entertainment on any device instantly and continuously is done by CDN specialists and strategically located edge computers.

With people increasingly cutting/shaving their cable service, streaming video increased to the point where almost 80 percent of the internet traffic is video.

Folks growing hunger for great entertainment bent the wired/wireless internet, but it didn’t break.

Things were okay (great even) until stuff happened.

We’ve experienced pandemics before, the most recent was SARS in 2004, but nothing like Covid-19.

In a few months, everyone on the planet was told to SIP (shelter-in-place) and for people to WFH (work from home).

Suddenly, it became important to put the communications tools we had taken for granted to work in creative, profitable ways for business and personal use.

To keep business moving forward, companies and individuals used the next best thing to being together – video conferencing – to keep projects, products moving forward.

Since content creation/production people have worked on projects around the globe, studios and content owners expanded and refined their video conferencing activities because it wasn’t just good to use, it suddenly became vital.

Zoom, GoToMeeting, Teams, BlueJeans, WebEx, Google Meet or any of the dozens of other video conferencing tools/services replaced conference room meetings and collaborative workflow enabled producers/directors to monitor, manage and adjust post activities in near real time.

Teams realized that staying visually in touch is more important than a phone call or email.

Perhaps more important was the fact that competent, confident executives[A1] quickly found that staying in touch didn’t mean you actually had to touch.

Despite the unforeseen demand, the internet bent but it didn’t break.

Expensive Infrastructure – High-performance broadband and improved wireless services are continually being added to ensure communications are fast and consistent. The cost of adding bandwidth isn’t miniscule and service providers continue to invest in the global infrastructure.

The continued investment in fixed, wi-fi and mobile networks is proving its value as global network demand continues to rise.

Constant Growth – The number of people who use the Internet streamed past 50 percent quite some time ago and has gotten to the point where people feel access to the world around us is a human right. Connectivity is important to improve life for people around the globe.

According to Cisco, by 2023, nearly two-thirds of the global population will have internet access. There will be an estimated 5.4B total users compared to 4.5B this year.

To keep pace with and stimulate increased use of the internet, firms like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and IBM stream content.

Streaming to home screens was relatively easy in the US and in most industrialized countries because high-speed fixed broadband was widely available.

But for connectivity anytime, anyplace people; increasingly rely on wireless and Wi-Fi connectivity because its faster, more economic to deploy and increasingly reliable.

Work in Progress – Wireless service providers are expanding the reach of 5G technology as rapidly as possible because it will be needed for telemedicine, autonomous cars, smart cities and perhaps even smarter governments. And yes, it will be extremely necessary for your streaming entertainment.

According to Strand Consult, 5G will come faster and be stronger than 2G, 3G or 4G; and with each generation, implementation and adoption will take less time.

This is important because global 5G will be a solid infrastructure for AI and IoT applications as well as tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles, smart cities, connected health and immersive video.

By 2023, they project:

  • 70 percent of the global population will have mobile connectivity with an average speed of 45.9 Mbps compared to 110 Mbps in 2018
  • 44.7 percent of mobile connections will be 4G compared to 69.5 percent in 2018
  • 3G and below will be 0.8 percent of total mobile connections compared to 19.2 percent in 2018
  • Households will have nearly 10 mobile connections with half being video capable

In most countries 5G will be marketed as an alternative to fixed line broadband that will be faster and more versatile – take your bandwidth with you … anywhere and on any device.

That is increasingly important as people rush to expand their personalized entertainment selections.

The M&E industry has shown that there is a seemingly endless selection of content to meet every taste, every mood.

Streaming Break – When the pandemic swept the globe, people quickly turned to their entertainment/news sources for relief and information. Fortunately, the Internet infrastructure was more than equal to the sudden upsurge in demand.

Streaming options include Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV +, Disney +, Canal +, Roku, YouTube, Tubi, Quibi, Twitch, BritBox, DANZ, Salto, Alibaba, Baidu, TenCent, ITV, ProSieben, Pluto and hundreds of AVOD/SVOD broad and niche services around the globe.

And for those who want to test/sharpen their skills, streaming game channels like Fortnite, Words with Friends, Best Fiend Stars, Jackbox, Minecraft, Mario, Pokemon and other stuff are emerging to involve/hook people of every age, race, nationality.

When people had to SIP, they turned to streaming entertainment – gawd did they – and streaming demand shot up.

Survival Plan – From the day the first five educational institutions were connected to speed the communications of scientists and engineers, the designers planned for the worst-case scenario. While the EU hasn’t been as aggressive in the build-out of its Internet infrastructure in many areas, even excessive demand slowed but didn’t break the Internet.

Streaming demand grew so much (and was so important) that EU Commissioner Thierry Breton asked Netflix, YouTube, Disney + to reduce the image quality from HD to SD (normal folks didn’t see the difference).

What that really did was cut data speed from 5Mbps to 1 Mbps; and if you’re streaming content to 200M households, that’s a lot of bandwidth.

NBD with the iNet backbone but when you get out at the edge … maybe, just maybe.

But the Internet didn’t even have a touch of indigestion–it held.

And, internet usage and applications continue to grow.

Vint Cerf, one of the founders of the Internet, has stated that the network of networks is performing exactly the way the early developers originally planned–tohold up well under an ever-increasing load regardless of the global crisis.

It’s a good thing because households everywhere have needed daily relief from the pandemic and enjoy what today’s technology and creative minds are offering to the global audience.

We don’t think the Covid-19 pandemic was a good thing, but it did force people to stop, inhale and appreciate the people around them and themselves.

Or as Tesla noted, “Most persons are so absorbed in the contemplation of the outside world that they are wholly oblivious to what is passing on within themselves.”

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Andy Marken – [email protected] – is an author of more than 600 articles on management, marketing, communications, industry trends in media & entertainment, consumer electronics, software and applications. He is internationally recognized marketing/communications consultant with a broad range of technical and industry expertise–especially in storage, storage management and film/video production fields. He also has an extended range of relationships with business, industry trade press, online media and industry analysts/consultants.

Andy Marken – [email protected] – is an author of more than 600 articles on management, marketing, communications, industry trends in media & entertainment, consumer electronics, software and applications. He is internationally recognized marketing/communications consultant with a broad range of technical and industry expertise–especially in storage, storage management and film/video production fields. He also has an extended range of relationships with business, industry trade press, online media and industry analysts/consultants.