Beware jams on the information superhighway says David Behrens
YOU’RE familiar, I’m sure, with the chaos ensuing from the school run, when the roads become choked with traffic at eight in the morning and four in the afternoon. What you may not know is that the superhighway has it as bad, if not worse, than the regular highways.
Children of all ages have discovered YouTube. For many of them it has taken over from television as the de facto mode of entertainment, and the effect of all that video streaming across the internet is enough to bring it to a shuddering halt. The fact that that doesn’t happen gives you some idea of the scale of its infrastructure.
The average wired family now hoovers up broadband data at a rate that was unthinkable just a few years ago. The iPlayer, online gaming and file downloading have all contributed to this. But mainly it’s YouTube. There is, says Kelly Dorset, head of products at the Sheffield-based broadband supplier Plusnet, a clear spike in consumption as children log on from their phones and PCs to consume videos over their breakfast cereals, and again when they return from school. Often, he says, they don’t watch at all but simply listen to music.
In my teenage years, the quality of the music counted for everything. But today, it’s all about convenience. And since home bandwidth is still cheap compared to mobile data, kids think nothing of streaming in pictures they’re not even watching.
The evening sees the sucking up of yet more data, as different members of the family take to Facebook, the web, Netflix and other services, often all at the same time. Yet it’s still just the tip of the iceberg. The increasing use of set-top boxes capable of streaming TV programmes in high definition will, says, Dorset, signal an even more dramatic rise in consumption. Such boxes will soon migrate to the mainstream, he says, and owners will want to use them to their full potential.
The other activity most likely to drain bandwidth is known as peer-to-peer downloading, a mechanism for accessing files stored across the internet by multiple users simultaneously. This is associated with the illegal sharing of movies and software. But, as Dorset points out, it’s also being used increasingly, and legally, for distributing games.
All of which points to the advantage of choosing a broadband deal that doesn’t limit your monthly usage. I’d hate you to have to be the one who has to tell a teenager that their breakfast viewing has been interrupted.
EATING DATA: Teenagers’ videos over breakfast are heavy on the megabytes.