What Can You Do With a 1 Gigabit/s Broadband Connection?

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A few of our customers have a 1Gb/s leased line to their office.

If current trends continue, you could have a 1Gb/s broadband connection at home within the next decade.

That sounds like a pipe dream, but BT estimates that by 2025, 500Mb/s broadband speeds will be available across most of the UK, and a premium option will deliver up to 1Gb/s.

BT's Openreach division supplies most of the UK's Internet Services Providers. So these speeds will be heading your way, regardless of which ISP you use.

Very few people are asking for 500Mbps broadband right now, let alone 1000Mbps.

But that is going to change. Here is what these scarily fast connections will be used for.

Higher Quality Video Streaming

Higher picture resolutions and higher frame rates are likely to push up the bandwidth required to deliver video streams and downloads.

TV, tablet and mobile manufacturers are desperate for ways to get you to upgrade to their latest products. Having sold you HD-capable equipment, they're convinced that you'll pay for 4K UHD – which offers 4 times the screen resolution of ordinary high-definition TV.

Sky, BT and Netflix have announced they'll be offering 4K content this year. YouTube already offers some 4K videos. There just aren't many of them yet. This will change as mobiles and laptops get ever better cameras.

iPhone 6 and Samsung S6 mobiles can already record 4K UHD video at 30 frames per second… or HD video at 60fps or more. Within the next five years, 4K UHD @ 60fps is likely to become the default standard for most video shot on mobiles, tablets and laptops. That will feed through to most user-generated video content streamed and broadcast.

By the time 1Gbps networks become widespread, 8K UHD may be the default resolution for video. Glasses-free 3D is likely to have arrived at a mass-market price, adding to the bandwidth requirements.

Lots of Household Devices Using the Internet at the Same Time

1Gbps speeds aren't just about a single PC downloading stuff at lighting speeds.

Home broadband connections are being used by an increasing number of devices - multiple PCs, tablets, mobiles, TV set-top boxes, connected TVs and games consoles.

Video Calls

Apple's Facetime and Microsoft's Skype have been pushing video calling, for years, with increasing success. Video calls are likely to become more popular once mobiles and tablets can deliver better quality streams. Part of that is about hardware improvements – such as better cameras, but part of that is about connectivity improvements that allow smoother, higher-resolution streams.

Most laptops and mobiles now have an integrated front-facing camera. The more expensive tablets do too. Expect smart TVs to be the next to integrate webcams by default. Once this happens, video calls will become even more popular.

Video Broadcasting

Historically, the Internet has been a two-way medium for text, but a one-way medium for video. But this is starting to change, now that most people's phones and tablets have a video camera.

Instagram, Vine and Snapchat have made it easy for everyday users to upload short videos. Periscope and Meerkat let anyone livestream events. And Facebook is rolling out a similar feature 'Live' – first to celebrities, but eventually to all users, on all platforms, globally.

Latency-Intolerant Applications

1Gbps connections don't just offer more bandwidth. They tend to have low levels of latency, low levels of jitter and low levels of packet loss.

Increasing the amount of bandwidth is like widening a motorway by adding additional lanes. Reducing latency is like raising the speed of traffic within those lanes. Reducing jitter is akin to making the speeds in those lanes more consistent.

Reductions in latency, jitter and packet loss result in an improved experience for anyone using online gaming, VoIP and video conferencing.

Things That Were Dire on ADSL Broadband Connections

Everyone talks about the 1Gbps+ download speed, but for many people it will be the improvement in upload speeds that will make the real difference.

According to Ofcom, the average upload speed of an ADSL2+ broadband connection is slightly more than 1Mbps at the best of times, and below 1Mbps for most of the time. And that's just the average upload speed. A lot of people can't even get those meagre amounts of bandwidth.

1Gbps broadband connections are likely to offer upload speeds of up to 100Mbps. That will make a big difference to anyone trying to upload files or stream video.

Ridiculously Large Operating System Updates

Operating systems used to come on 1.44Mb floppy disks. It's just as well they don't now. Windows 8 users upgrading to Windows 10 would have needed a minivan just to carry the 4300+ floppy disks required to store that particular software update.

The software updates for Windows, Android and iOS, are likely to continue to grow in size, as rising device storage and faster connections make large, bloated software updates ever more feasible.

High Definition VoIP Phone Calls

Phone calls have had poor audio quality for decades. You're so used to this poor sound quality that you probably don't even notice it.

BT has announced that it would like to move to a single all-IP network by around 2025. They plan to retire the traditional phone network (the PSTN). This move towards universal use of VoIP will make it far easier for phone call quality to be improved. We'll see more use of low-latency wideband audio codecs with error correction.

Most phone calls will use more bandwidth, but the improvement in sound quality will make that worthwhile.

Cloud Gaming

Games are becoming more photo-realistic. As a consequence, they're getting larger.

A 1Gb/s connection can download the latest games, without it taking an eternity.

Game streaming services such as PlayStation Now make it possible to play games on a remote host and have the video output streamed to your living room. But if you want a smooth gaming experience, you'll need a decent amount of bandwidth.

And gamers don't just want to watch their own game. They want to watch other people play too. Sandvine reports that Twitch – the video-gameplay streaming service now owned by Amazon – is in the top ten applications generating downstream traffic.

Illegal File Sharing

Obviously, YOU would never download files illegally.

But this article would be incomplete if it didn't highlight one of the main uses for fast broadband connections – illegally downloading the latest must-watch TV series, music albums and Hollywood movies.

Interestingly, illegal file sharing is on the decline, thanks to the growth of legal over-the-top IP TV services such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Sky Go, ITV Hub, 4oD, and legal music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.

Applications That Don't Yet Exist

Ten years ago, the iPhone, Twitter, Vine, Facetime, Periscope and Snapchat didn't require any bandwidth, because they didn't exist.

Ten years ago, Netflix didn't stream videos. It just sent DVDs by mail. Now it accounts for over 30% of peak-time downstream Internet traffic in North America, and over 20% of UK traffic.

So the chances are high that some of the biggest bandwidth-hogging applications ten years from now have yet to be invented. You'll definitely need more bandwidth. You just don't know what for.

Making 1Gbps Broadband a Reality

When will this 1Gbps broadband revolution arrive?

Up until the end of 2017, Openreach will concentrate on extending the availability of 'up to 80mb' fibre broadband to 95% of UK homes, up from just below 90% today.

In late 2016 or early 2017, the commercial roll out of G.Fast will begin. By 2020, around 40% of the UK should be able to get up to 330Mbps downstream and up to 50Mbps upstream, over standard copper phone lines. By 2025, the downstream speed is likely to be increased to 500Mbps. The upload speed will probably have increase to 100Mbps.

By 2020, there will be a premium fibre-based option for those who want 1Gbps broadband, provided they live within the fibre broadband coverage area and are willing to pay hefty circuit installation costs.

Meanwhile, cable providers will not be resting on their laurels. They'll be upgrading their networks, to compete with these higher speeds.

The Government will almost certainly want to get involved. It agreed to pay £1.7bn towards subsidising the roll-out of fibre-to-the-cabinet broadband. With that work largely complete by the end of 2017, and MPs across the political spectrum already calling for significantly faster broadband, it's likely that the Government will  pay Openreach to roll out G.Fast to a much wider area than planned, bringing 500Mb/s speeds to far more of the country.

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom plans to force Openreach to offer access to its ducts and poles to rivals at sensible prices. This may make it feasible for niche network operators to offer 1gbps fibre broadband to high-density urban areas, particularly to tall buildings with lots of tenants.

When all these developments are taken together, it's clear that significantly faster broadband is heading your way. And by the time it arrives, it looks like you'll need it.

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