5G, self-driving vehicles, Big Data, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, 3D printing, e-health and e-learning are just a few of the terms we encounter in relation to digitisation. Some of them are already reality and the rest is set to follow by 2025. Like a number of other countries, Austria’s ministry of the interior wants to drive digitisation forward and close a potential digital gap by 2020. Its broadband strategy has introduced various packages of measures, whereby the following principle applies:
This intention comes as no suprise given the fact that, according to the Global Digital Report 2018, more than 4 billion people worldwide (80% in Europe) use the Internet - and the numbers are rising. Two thirds of the world's population have a mobile phone.
Futurologists say that by 2020 there will be three times as many devices online (that includes vehicles, for instance) than there are people in the world. 90% of all data was created during the last two years – and the trend is growing.
This development would not be possible without a widely available, ultrafast Internet. Broadband Internet access is considered the cornerstone of digital change. In reality, however, it is still the case that entire regions have to make do without broadband Internet access or any Internet access at all. Often fibre optic networks are extended, but fall short of a connection to a house or apartment building for cost reasons.
It should also be mentioned that different nations are unable to agree on the data transfer speed that earns the designation “broadband”. Like the International Telecommunication Union and the World Bank, Germany has committed to a data transfer rate of 2038 kBit/s; Austria’s regulatory authority specifies a download speed of more than 144 kBit/s; and the USA state a minimum downstream rate of 4 Mbit/s and a minimum upstream rate of 1 Mbit/s. The copper telephone lines were the only source of data transfer far into the first decade of this century, although they are only suitable for bridging short distances and not for transferring large quantities of data.
The solution: fibreglass cables, also known as fibre optic cables, are meanwhile laid directly into the consumer’s point of use and guarantee lossless transmission and high broadband reserves. Fibre optic cables are laid into the building or even into the consumer’s home. One should not forget the Last Mile that can still create problems, namely when the “last few yards” to the house connection are made of copper cable.
Bandwidth is not a critical issue in many cases; a bandwidth of 2 Mbit/s seems to be sufficient for normal surfing behaviour. But that changes as soon as films are streamed – this is when the download rate becomes all-important. Here are a few recommendations from the Austrian regulatory authority:
0.1 Mbit/s download/uplaod (Skype)
1 Mbit/s download (Youtube)
SD 3 Mbit/s download (Netflix)
HD 5 Mbit/s download (Netflix)
UltraHD 25 Mbit/s download (Netflix)
0.32 Mbit/s download (Spotify)
And the need for more bandwidth is unlikely to decrease as the trend towards UltraHD gains momentum.
Network neutrality means transporting all data to the recipient with the same priority, i.e. with the same quality. “Complete neutrality would mean treating all data equally in every regard. An ‘egalitarian network’ of this nature would not differentiate between services or take other criteria such as the platform, sender or recipient into account.” Network capacity needs to be increased continuously to achieve this ideal and to treat the ever-growing quantities of data equally. Some service providers reject the concept of network neutrality in order to transfer different data with different transmission qualities. The risks involved are not insignificant: Corporations could pay Internet service providers to grant their content preferential treatment and, for example, to transmit videos from a specific platform at a higher speed.
In June 2018, Trump’s administration did away with network neutrality and thus with a fundamental principle of the Internet. How does that affect the user? “On the one hand, providers cannot charge for the use of certain services. This is known as Zero Rating. On the other hand, they could prioritise certain data packages so that, for instance, Netflix loads faster than Amazon Prime.” Network neutrality still applies in the EU, albeit with compromises. Zero Ratings are not prohibited and are already in widespread use. The Austrian mobile phone operator A1, for instance, offers its tariffs together with various “A1 Free Stream” products. Users who subscribe to the most expensive tariff can use all of the popular music and video streaming platforms without depleting their data volume. Cheaper tariffs do not usually include video streaming platforms and social media channels. Many experts see unhindered Internet access at risk. Attractive at first glance, but when you look closer…
Zero Rating models are usually only attractive when the data volume is limited and the user needs to decide what they are going to use it for. After all, it is of no significance whether or not a specific music streaming service is included in a zero-rating package if the data volume is unlimited. And in the majority of cases, as in our preceding example, free streaming is only available with expensive tariffs where the user pays for every bit of bandwidth anyway. It is unlikely to mean the end of flat-rate tariffs, although tariffs with more or even unlimited bandwidth will become more expensive.
How prices will develop in the future naturally remains to be seen, but it is without doubt that 5G, self-driving vehicles, artificial intelligence, UltraHD or whatever else the digital future holds in store will raise the demand for more bandwidth in the private sector and especially in the public domain.
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