Netflix has now been running in the UK for just over a year. It's been joined by online services such as LoveFilm and Sky's NOW TV. What this means is more consumers are going online and streaming data-hungry movies and TV shows.
It's part of a culture which has developed where more and more of us are using websites to consume content. Big players such as YouTube and Daily Motion are well entrenched, but these new services have ratcheted up our hunger for data. Because of this, PwC recently estimated the amount of data we will consume each month in the UK through online video services will more than quadruple between 2011 and 2016. It will rise from 10,000 petabytes in 2011 to more than 45,000 petabytes in 2016.
After a massive marketing push, Netflix is now a household name, with over 30 million members streaming films and TV programmes worldwide. It's an impressive achievement, but people don't tend to think about the challenge that it presents in making sure a HD movie is streamed perfectly so the viewer doesn't have to put up with glitches or lag times. Without a reliable infrastructure from telecommunications operators, video streaming simply couldn't exist. We have already seen this stretched to the limit. Last year ITV player crashed because of the surge in online viewers trying to watch the latest series of Downton Abbey. There's no reason to suggest we're at the peak of demand yet either, with Netflix and others predicting a strong performance throughout the rest of the year.
Because of this, the consumer now simply expects to be able to stream content when they want. The headache for operators is that people are creatures of habit and tend to want to stream content at the same time. It means at certain points, networks can be put under enormous strain to meet demand. It's no easy task to manage, but a fibre-based network utilising photonic integration allows them to upscale capacity as and when it's needed. Photonic integration makes it possible to lower the 'cost per bit' of traffic, basically deepening their well from which to draw data.
Legacy DSL networks, especially in rural areas, are simply not up to the job at the moment. It's why we have seen network operators like Virgin Media Business and BT invest huge sums in bulking up their networks. Whilst the UK has gone some of the way to making itself fit for purpose in a video streaming world, there is still work to be done. Consumer demand drives any market, and the consumer has gotten fat on a diet of unlimited data. Either British consumers will need to go on an unlikely data diet or network operators will need to invest more in their infrastructure to ensure the video streaming feast continues.