Cisco to Turbocharge the Internet

Ah, the Law of Unintended Consequences is always hiding around the corner, waiting to bite you in the butt.

I’ve been writing a lot about watching movies and video content over the Internet, and this has prompted some readers to question whether or not the Internet can stand up to the load of all this increased traffic if the majority of people started getting all their entertainment content streamed over the Internet. I may be a Polyanna on this score, but I expect that the Internet will grow to meet the demand. I was on the other side of the fence when Internet radio first started; it was over-compressed and stuttered, and I thought it had no business on the system that we depended on for sending and receiving our text email. Then I stuck to my guns when the Web arrived, and people wanted to send pictures and fancy colored pages, and actually start using typefaces and video clips over the Internet. Surely the system would buckle under this load of pretty bytes that it was not originally intended to handle.

Well, clearly I was wrong then, so I’m betting on the expanding universe side of the question this time. Look at the experiments that Google and others are making for 1 Gbps Internet connections. (I just upgraded to 25/25 Mbps service, so I’m already 2.5% of the way there!) And then there’s the CRS-3.

In case that model number isn’t familiar, it’s a new router that Cisco announced earlier this month. According to Cisco, it provides triple the bandwidth over the previous model: 322 Terabits per second. How fast is that? Cisco says it’s so fast that “every motion picture ever created to be streamed in less than four minutes.” (emphasis added)

Pretty cool, huh? Who wouldn’t love to have this sort of power running the Internet? But wait; remember that Law of Unintended Consequences? Erik Heinrich provided an interesting analysis of this development in a recent Time Magazine article. He pointed out that Hollywood might not be ready to embrace this new development. Keep in mind that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) fought both the VCR and the DVD on the grounds that they would make it easier to steal copyrighted movie and television program content. Given the problems that various operations including Hulu and Netflix have had in getting licenses to stream this sort of content, it’s clear that some folks in Hollywood are not ready to release all their latest productions on streaming services.

From my vantage point, it’s inevitable that the studios and networks will come around, and see that Internet streaming is going to take a big bite out of the traditional distribution channels sooner or later. It’s already providing consumers with the a la carte option that cable and satellite services refuse to offer. And as more discover that they can already get most of the programming they want over the Internet for a lot less than they are paying for subscription TV services, the Internet services will gain increasing leverage for their negotiations with Hollywood. Developments such as Cisco’s new router and 1 Gbps broadband experiments will only bring that day that much sooner.