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Will Video Streaming Cause Internet 'Brownouts?'

This week I found three stories raising concerns about the reliability of the Internet. Last week I urged broadcast engineers to look at how a fiber cut such as the one in Northern California early in April would impact their stations' operations. This week's news raises the possible that the Internet may not be as reliable tomorrow as it is today.

The first story appeared April 26 in TIMESONLINE: Beware surfers: cyberspace is filling up. A little research showed the article was based on a Nermertes Research report released last November: Stress Fractures in the Internet by 2012. Nemertes researcher Ted Ritter explained, "The Internet is shape-shifting. Traffic is increasingly moving off the public Internet onto paid or private overlay networks. Content providers—such as NBC, which used Limelight Networks to stream the 2008 Olympics—are driving the trend toward a flattening, and shifting of the Internet."

Dr. Mike Jude, senior analyst with Nemertes, said, "Requirements for multi-homing—providing multiple, separate routes to a given address—and ever-increasing mobility are placing added stress on the current Internet logical infrastructure, In effect, the Internet could fracture back into groups of networks."

Thanks to Nemertes Research for posting the entire report on-line. It covers the problem in detail down to the structure of the Internet and how traffic is routed. If you don't want to take time to read the entire report, here's the summary:

"An Internet that can't reliably deliver content is at best a toy. For business purposes, it is useless. Content provision to consumers using the Internet, in particular, begins to look dicey. And enterprise use of public Internet facilities as a way to transport business communications and data ceases to be an option."

"Nemertes believes enterprises planning to utilize the public Internet for business purposes must carefully consider its limitations as they make their plans. For example, it may be desirable to build Web-enabled customer care capabilities, but it may be necessary to backstop that function with more traditional telephone-enabled services. Likewise, enterprises may need to augment their plans for running private VPNs over the Internet with private circuits."

"In any case, it is clear that, absent major new efforts to adjust the logical fabric of the Internet, its utility is likely to erode in the near future. This will lead inevitably to a fragmented Internet; one piece of which enables access to low-quality content and defined by a low standard for service quality, and one that is more capable and which enables access to premium content at higher standards for service. The former will be free, the latter will not."

The other news involves the IPv4 to IPv6 conversion. The number of ###.###.###.### Internet addresses is running out. The American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) sent a letter to organizations with IPv4 addresses that begins, "This letter concerns the fact the Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) addresses are running out and calls your attention to what we are doing about it." The letter continues, "At the current rate of consumption, IPv4 will be depleted within the next two years. After that, organizations that need additional IP addresses will need to adopt IPv6, a newer version of the Internet Protocol that provides a much larger pool of address space."

ARIN said that beginning on or after May 18, 2009, ARIN will require applications for IPv4 address space to include an attestation of accuracy from an organizational officer to ensure the organizations submitting legitimate requested based on documented need will have ongoing access to IPv4 address space "to the maximum extent possible."

The final story was one I heard on Public Radio Thursday evening. The story dealt with business plans to deal with a flu pandemic. One of the executives being interviewed said his company was working on ways to allow employees with critical responsibilities to work from home. He said the company was putting in private circuits to these employees' homes because of concern that residential networks would not be able to handle the volume of traffic generated by a large number of people working from home. I'm not sure that will be the case, as most business traffic is e-mail and VoIP, which typically consumes a small amount of bandwidth compared to video sharing and viewing online video. If there are a large number of people at home during the workday due to the flu watching high-resolution online TV, perhaps it will be an issue.

In any event, in light of this week's news, take a look at remote control and other critical circuits that depend on the public Internet. Make sure you have backup in the event of problems on with the Internet!

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.