The amount of video online is skyrocketing, whether it's "Lost" episodes or movie trailer mash-ups. The phenomenon is putting new stress on ISP networks, which are seeing the demands on their bandwidth burgeon.
Now a new wave of companies--some newcomers, some with familiar faces--are stepping up to play the role of traffic cop, arguing that they have ways to manage this surge in video traffic and keep networks healthy.
"Everyone loses in the current scenario," said Michel Billard, a former HP executive who recently joined start-up Itiva, one of the companies offering video-speeding technology. "What we need is a way to amplify the bandwidth that's available."
This is far from an academic issue. Whether the new companies can deliver on their promises could have a profound effect on how the Internet operates--and it could.
Business and entertainment content worth billions of dollars now flows over ordinary ISP networks. Internet voice calls, which can be garbled by any network congestion, are increasingly common. Serious online hiccups could be as irritating, and potentially economically damaging, as persistent L.A. traffic jams.
Already, according to network infrastructure company CacheLogic, more than 60 percent of Internet traffic is being taken up by peer-to-peer swaps, and about 60 percent of those swaps involve video content. Add to that the growing amount of legitimate content from companies such as Apple Computer, MovieLink and Google Video, and the scale of consumers' demand for video begins to emerge.
Big ISPS such as AT&T have already argued that they should be able to charge companies such as Google or Yahoo for an extra tier of service, ensuring their content arrives swiftly at its destination. Web companies and civil libertarians have bitterly criticized this idea, calling for "" that doesn't relegate other content to a slow lane, or pass along costs to consumers.
Any technologies that ease bandwidth burdens could help defuse that debate.
"ISPs' rhetoric is increasingly strident about content from outside providers raising the costs of their networks," said Jupiter Research analyst Joe Laszlo. "But I haven't seen hard data that suggests the volume of legitimate video is coming close to swamping ISP networks yet."
From P2P to Quantum streaming
As with any network issue, the problem with Web video comes down to too much data trying to fit through the same pipe at once.
In the late 1990s, when audio and video streaming first took off online, Web content companies had a similar problem. When hundreds of thousands of people tried to watch the Victoria's Secret fashion show at the same time, for example, the server hosting that streaming video would collapse under the demand.
Those traffic issues have largely been conquered, thanks to companies such as Akamai Technologies, which has put thousands of servers in ISP networks around the world, allowing people in search