My Turn: The Internet is not unlimited

The current pandemic has an added urgency to the existing trend of moving to streaming – consuming live content via streaming.  Already many offerings are moving from classic TV (on the air or cable) to streaming services over the internet.  There is an assumption that internet has unlimited capability.  I am not talking about if your home or business has a high enough speed (technically bandwidth) connection for decent viewing.  I am talking about the data pipe that all the various users (really data streams) follow to reach your viewer: be it phone, tablet or large TV screen.  As someone who has been working on and with Internet and web services far longer then most of you know they existed, let me clarify and suggest some alternatives.   I am going to try to cover some very technical topics, without overwhelming details.

First let us clarify that the internet has largely two parts, the very high speed data pipes that route data, most of which are fiber, and the local connect, often called the last mile.  The last mile systems are largely designed to handle an ‘average’ load and has some ability to handle ‘burst’ traffic.  What that means for you, is that most commercial use is during business hours and recreation (read Netflix) is in the evening.  Now the internet infrastructure works with data packets and that allows for caching or what you might have seen as ‘now buffering’. Back up a bit and understand that older cable TV is NOT internet, it uses a similar but separate data transmission technique.  This all works fairly well OR did until …

Most consumer streaming is not real-time dependent, which means the hardware near you can buffer (cache) ahead of what you are watching enough that you never see a delay or even know it is happening.  The web has similar techniques you never even know.  That is not so true of live transmissions, as many of you are finding out.  The technology of live streams is well known and the dozen or so options vary mainly in how their user interface interacts with you.  They all get tripped up by overloaded internet.  Also, I’ve not mentioned the jump between the internet cable (called pipe) and the Wifi link that many of you use on your devices where ever you are — another section to get overloaded.

A quick jump to EVERYONE using the internet to replace face-to-face communications (what we call IRL, In real live, acknowledging the difference). That added to the trend over streaming I just mentioned.  That is for school and business, not traveling and just plain staying sane.  Do not let us now forget that we live in a largely rural area for many of you — where there is either limited, expensive  or even no high speed connections.

What does this all mean ?  At the very least plan on being disrupted when online, many of you already know web sites can be overloaded, add that you might not be able to get to them at all.  Try to pick less busy times for live sessions. Expect business meetings and school classes to be disrupted.  If you are of the more technical bent, look into smart devices like the Tivo or Plex that actually hold the whole TV show locally until you are ready to watch.  Go back to watching DVDs. And gee you could actually read a book or talk.

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