Comcast made its big DOCSIS 3.0 push last year and boosted downstream speeds in most markets to 50 Mbps. According to Broadband Reports, however, the operator will go a step further and bring 100-Mbps speeds to 20% of its subscriber base by the end of 2010. And that’s just the beginning. Also on the horizon are downstream speeds up to 250 Mbps. That won’t happen this year, but a source suggests it’s not too far off either.
Does anybody really need speeds that high? And can networks support that much data usage? In answer to the first question, there’s room for experimentation with higher speed networks. Jokes about teleportation aside, we haven’t yet fully explored the possibilities of using a massively fast pipe for video conferencing, 3D modeling, medical applications, and more. Google certainly sees opportunity, hence the company’s announcement earlier this month that it will deploy fiber networks with speeds up to 1 Gbps in a few test locations.
In answer to the second question, well, it’s not entirely clear yet. We’ll have a better sense if and when we can examine data about actual consumer broadband usage. That may be easier once there are better measurement tools on the market. On that front, Comcast is making progress. After Dave tweeted the news that the operator’s bandwidth meter had made its way to the Boston market, Jeff Baumgartner went on to discover that Comcast has extended its bandwidth meter trials to some Seattle customers as well, and plans to add parts of Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Texas to the mix by the end of this month. Parts of Utah and Colorado should follow soon afterward.
As consumers get a better read on their own usage, I’m betting we’ll start to see better aggregate data too. Bandwidth caps are one thing, but actual usage data will help us figure out if networks are up to the job of supporting higher throughput. Especially once higher speeds become less of a novelty, and demand for consistently higher throughput spreads through larger portions of the population.