Networking

Peter Cochrane's Blog: The bandwidth charging sham

Bandwidth is effectively infinite and free so why are we charged for it?

Mobile operators enforce charging regimes that date back to the fixed-line networks of 100 years ago

Mobile operators enforce charging regimes that date back to the fixed-line networks of 100 years agoPhoto: lululemon athletica

Written in St Petersburg and dispatched to silicon.com via a public 3G service at 1Mbps.

The network industries still try to sell us bandwidth as if it were a limited and precious resource. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Over 20 years ago I caused a minor controversy in the telecoms industry by asserting that:

Time and distance are irrelevant and bandwidth is effectively infinite and free.

Today, the fixed-line operators have largely adapted to the fact that time and distance are indeed irrelevant, which is borne out by their flat fees and package deals. However, they are still trying to grasp the fact that bandwidth is effectively infinite and free - and they continue to charge by quantity and the scale of downloads.

In complete contrast, the mobile operators don't understand any of it and enforce the charging regimes that go back more than 100 years to the time of the original fixed-line telephone networks.

Can this situation obtain for much longer? I don't think so. New technologies such as 4G and LTE plus fixed mobile cloud working with wi-fi, WiMax and Bluetooth will turn their 3G business models upside down.

So how come bandwidth is effectively infinite and free? In two words: optical fibre. This transport medium is ultra low-cost to produce, and rapidly recovers the initial investment once it is in service. In most of the world, the original long-line fibre lays occurred over 20 years ago and these pipes now spew out money.

In the local loop - that is, the first and last mile - optical fibre affords drastic cost reductions with reduced building stock, the removal of all street furniture, with far fewer people required to run the network.

Of course there are exceptions. For example...

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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