Sunday, 11 June 2017

Bandwidth

I am sat here in my "man cave" on a Sunday afternoon, watching netflix (working through TNG again). Well, technically, I am doing some work, and trying to fix a 3D printer, and I have netflix on as well.

This uses a lot of bandwidth, but at least I am here and watching the TV, so probably not "wasteful".

I just went to the kitchen to make a coffee, and found that my wife had left "internet radio" playing on the iPad in the kitchen. Nobody listening to it. She has gone shopping.

She is using way less bandwidth than I, but it felt "wrong".

I remember when internet radio would easily use all of the bandwidth of an ISDN channel whilst tying up a port that is supposed to be shared with dozens of other people - it cost money and was using a shared resource.

Even just a few years ago, running internet radio all day would use up a significant share of backhaul and transit bandwidth - making you a high usage user. One of the classic ways to accidentally run up high usage or extra charges in an office would be someone running an internet radio, having later turned down the volume, and forgotten about it.

Times have moved on, and the average usage per customer, and part of a typical package, allows internet radio with no problem, and can even allow watching streaming TV most of the day and still be well within usage levels. Watching TV would still make people a "high usage user" compared to the average, but not the end of the world. We have packages allowing a terabyte a month now for a fixed price.

So I was pondering why the unattended iPad in the kitchen seemed wrong to me, and the best analogy I can come up with is water supply.

We have no water meter in this house - so we pay a fixed price for water, however much we use. There is no major water shortage in the UK, usually, so I have no issue with having a shower every day, the occasional bath, or flushing the toilet! But in spite of all of that I would not run a tap down the sink all day. It would be "wrong", because the water is a shared resource. If we all did that it would not work. It felt like leaving streaming music playing on the iPad was running water down the sink, if you see what I mean. No costs to worry about, but felt "wrong".

I am sure the time will come soon when such notions just seem like a total nonsense when it comes to Internet access. A time when my notions of wasting bandwidth seem strange and hard to understand.

Even now, my "feeling" on this is skewed - leaving the TV playing for the few minutes whilst I made that coffee is probably worth hours of leaving the music playing on the iPad. It is strange how we create these biases.

But I bet there are a lot of people who have no "feeling" for using bandwidth being like using water in the first place (as well as those that have no worries about wasting water either).

13 comments:

  1. On aggregate though, how much energy is wasted in data centres and transiting data for all the users who've left something running, walked away and forgotten about it..?

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    1. Sorry, did not mean to confuse matters - energy is not the issue at all - the Internet is a shared resource at many levels, and the links have limited capacity - just like water pipes. Even if water was free and you had as much as you like, everyone turning on the taps at once would not work as the pipes would not cope. Same issue. Only difference is Internet pipes are gradually getting bigger over time.

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    2. It's funny - I was similarly irritated by a web site which had all their pages set to auto-refresh every X minutes. Probably trivial compared to constant audio streaming, though.

      Of course, I've been working on shrinking and optimising web pages for a long time now, so I've always thought of bandwidth as something to be used as efficiently as possible, even when it's an abundant resource...

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    3. Even if a pocket computer can easily render a big bloated web page, what about the server resources when eleventy billion users want to view it all at once?

      (See also SHA-3: a single calculation can be done very quickly, but at the scale at which hash functions get used its inefficiencies add up.)

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  2. I manage internet for blocks of student flats. Leaving Netflix or YouTube playing 24/7 is frustrating common, if any of my users are reading its a great way to get devices Mac address locked into the bulk queue ;-)

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  3. I'm an A&A customer.. I leave streaming radio playing _twice_. Once in the office and once in the kitchen. All day, every day, same station.

    I did once use an app to distribute audio all in sync (a bit like airplay?) but it went wrong and it is less resistance to just play the source stream twice.

    That is the way I want to use the internet.
    If I didn't have the 1T limit I'd also be running a ToR mid-node again too to "waste bandwidth" and contribute to ToR.

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  4. there will always be waste in this world - look at the number of cars with only one person in them - makes a bit of wasted data seem trivial in comparison

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  5. You would probably find your water cheaper on a meter, even if you are not usage conscious :-)

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  6. Unlike water though, the bits aren't a finite resource. You don't feel bad for using your part of the water pressure, just for wasting the water that's coming out.

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  7. Waste in this country and the world is on an epic scale, and is only sustainable for a certain amount of time, unless we crack nuclear fusion or some other major source of energy.

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  8. I think of the bandwidth differently. I feel like I've paid for 1tb and so that's mine and I can do with it what I want, even if that's "wasteful". I would expect the externalities to already be factored in to the cost. The "unlimited" water is different - but perhaps because of this people not on water meters typically use less water than those on meters?

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  9. Reminds me of an incident in the mid 90s. It was very early days for "The Web"; we had set up Internet access for a customer using an on-demand ISDN dialup. It was principally for email, but supported web browsing via a local caching proxy with usage restrictions. Was great until suddenly they got an absolutely massive phone bill - seems one of the privileged users had discovered he could listen to BBC Radio 2 online, and had it on all day every day... (and probably 24/7, knowing the propensity for those users to never switch anything other than the monitor off!)

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    1. I was someone who caused that at a company :D oops.. IRC kept their line up for 9-5 for nearly a month. After that month I was the one who researched and organised a Surftime based connection that was flat rate for 24/7 connection.

      Fun days.

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