Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Internet Speed?


Predictions about how much device power and speed we could ever need have been common throughout the history of personal computing. From the people at home making guesses with their friends to the famous and likely fake quote from Bill Gates, any assumptions made are eventually proven false. This might not necessarily always be the case, however, especially when it comes to internet speed. With modern systems, and some types of modern demands, it could be possible that what we have today could stand the test of time for decades, and we want to explore why.

The Obvious Exceptions

Before jumping into the why, we first need to point out that there will inevitably be many situations where the need for greater speed will always exist. Businesses that work with large video files or data backups are the biggest demonstrations of this, where every extra Mbps means a more effective and efficient workflow.

internet speed” (CC BY 2.0) by Infosec Images

This form of improvement hasn’t just called for more bandwidth and lower latency either, as it’s also created a need for better tools like those which manage network availability. These tools need to quickly resolve issues and crunch enormous amounts of data to determine bottlenecks and problems. In this way, both the internet and tools revolving around its improving speed are on a constant upward trajectory, but not everyone pushes their machines as hard as possible.

The Right User

Consider an example of a user living with their partner, who relies on their internet connection for casual uses like browsing and streaming video. Now imagine this person has adopted a gigabit internet connection. In the most intensive use cases, this would mean that the user would only cut this connection speed between a few simultaneously running systems.

In the case of browsing, general internet use has become a lot more data reliant in the last couple of decades, that much is true. This is thanks to a larger and more secure code base, higher resolution images, and more data expensive ads. That said, the median data cost for a website today sits at around 2.1 megabytes, up from about 500 kilobytes ten years ago.

With some quick calculations, this adds up to around 160 kilobytes of growth per year. Extend this linearly from 2022 to 2100, and the end medium cost of a webpage would be around 14.5 megabytes. According to data calculators, this would result in load times of webpages on a gigabit connection, even 80 years from now, at just over 0.1 seconds. Not exactly worth upgrading for.

A much more data-intensive use could be seen in video streaming. With current systems, 4K video streams for most systems cost between 25-50 Mbps in most cases. Even with two simultaneous users, this would take up only one-twentieth of a gigabit connection.

You might claim that 8K video or beyond will eventually become the standard, but this is unlikely. Human testing has determined that 8K video detail is largely imperceptible to the human eye in regular uses, meaning such resolutions will likely become little more than a marketing gimmick. Even if not, 8K would still only claim up to around 200Mbps in bandwidth.

CES2019_.SonyUHC-8300Camera_RochelleWint” (CC BY 2.0) by ETC-USC

Looking at these scenarios, we can’t help but reach a conclusion that, for many casual users, all the speed they’ll ever need is already within their grasp. While some unpredicted technology could prove these calculations entirely wrong, in many current use-case environments, one gigabit will often be enough. We’re living in the future, and that’s an exciting prospect.

Chris Price