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2014's Internet belongs to cord cutters

With every month that goes by, Netflix and other real-time video entertainment providers and their customers are dominating Internet usage more and more.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

If you ever wondered why the last-mile ISPs, such as Comcast and Verizon, are so hot to get rid of net neutrality and charge media providers like Netflix—oh, and you—more money for broadband, look no further than Sandvine's Global Internet Phenomena Report for the first half of 2014 (PDF Link). There, you'll find that Netflix alone takes up 34.2 percent of peak period Internet traffic. That's a lot of bytes.

Sandvine Peak Internet Traffic 2014
Video entertainment, most of it from Netflix, is where the plurality of the Internet's bandwidth goes.

Actually, it's not "bytes," the video watchers are using. The typical fixed line North American Internet subscriber now uses 29GBs of throughput every month. And, while Netflix continues to dominate the Internet downstream, YouTube (with 13.19 percent), iTunes/Apple TV (3.42 percent), Amazon Video (1.90 percent), and Hulu (1.75 percent) have combined to make the Internet a video entertainment playground.

The situation isn't any different with mobile Internet services such as 4G. Sandvine reports that "during peak period, Real-Time Entertainment traffic is by far the most dominant traffic category, accounting for over 40 percent of the downstream bytes on the network." On the road, at the job, or at home we love our Internet video.

By Sandvine's calculations, cord-cutters—people, like your author, who've switched away entirely from conventional cable and satellite television to Internet video--now make up 15 percent of users. While a typical user will use 29GBs in a month, a cord cutter will use 212GBs during the same period. Their numbers show that "Subscribers with “cord cutter” behavior consume 11-times as much streaming content, and over seven-times as much total data as a typical subscriber."

CordCutter Traffic
Cord-cutters, about 15 percent of users, use seven times as much bandwidth as average users.

Sandvine continued, "That may seem like a shockingly high number to some, but in homes with multiple individuals, and multiple screens, it is a number that is quite easily achievable. The most striking fact of all may be the revelation that the top 15th-percentile of video users actually consume the majority of monthly network traffic, and that the bottom 15th-percentile of users consume only 0.5 percent."

As for the rest of Internet usage, BitTorrent, while still the top upstream service with 24.53 percent at peak hours, is continuing to decline. File-sharing in general, thanks to ISP's continuing to act against file sharing services, is becoming less and less popular.

It would also seem that the old argument — that if media providers simply made their music and video goods available at a fair market price, piracy would go down — is also true.

Regardless of the reason, Sandvine reports that "BitTorrent continues to lose share and now accounts for just 6.0 percent of traffic during peak period. In our last report, we revealed that for the first time file-sharing as a whole accounted for less than 10 percent of total daily traffic, and that trend continues with file-sharing now responsible for just 8.3 percent of daily network traffic. This demonstrates a sharp decline in share from the 31 percent of total traffic we had revealed in our 2008 report."

On the upswing are the "video game live streaming service Twitch.TV (1.35 percent) which is now a top-15 application on many networks around the globe and now accounts for more traffic in the US than HBO GO (1.24 percent). On the mobile front, Snapchat, a messaging service that supports sending images, is gobbling up much traffic as 12 percent of one major American mobile traffic's bandwidth. This doesn't mean that Snapchat is all that popular in and of itself, it's just that by sending exclusively images, it's eating much more bandwidth than its text-only brothers.

Put it all together and Sandvine found that "For 1H 2014, mean usage was 51.4 GB, which represents a slight increase from the 44.5 GB observed in our 2H 2013 report. Over the same period, median monthly usage also saw a small increase moving from 17.6 GB to 19.4 GB."

How this growth will play out in the battle between the last mile ISPs and most other technology companies that support net neutrality and the FCC's rulings remains to be seen. All we know for certain is that users are growing ever more hungry for bandwidth and there will be changes in how we pay for it.

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