A jump in average broadband download speeds in the UK from 4.1Mbps in January to 5Mbps in October 2008 has coincided in Brits move from watching predominantly low-quality video clips on platforms like YouTube to high-quality video on the BBC’s iPlayer which perform best at download speeds.
Picture quality and sound via streaming technologies is greatly improved at higher speeds and waiting for pages to load or buffer is no longer an issue. The impact that super-fast broadband such as offered by O2 and Virgin Media is having on Internet usage is clearly reflected in increased consumption of rich media like high definition (HD) TV downloads. The iPlayer alone has seen daily requests to stream or download TV and radio programmes rise from 360,000 in January to 957,000 in October 2008.
The downside to this rich-media revolution is that high-resolution, quality video files and streams require more data to be downloaded than ever before meaning broadband provider download allowance limits are being reached and exceeded more than ever before. Coupled with the UK's aging ADSL broadband network not being built to withstand the kind of capacity issues it is facing, the future will see ADSL2 and fibre-optic broadband technologies becoming the norm.
"Alongside the limitations of the existing network technology, the downside of this exponential growth in high-quality video streaming services like the iPlayer is that people are increasingly being hit with colossal, unexpected data charges for exceeding their download allowance â€“ not ideal during this current recession" says Jessica McArdle, a spokesperson for Top 10 Broadband. "With average speeds now over 5Mb making the rich media dream a true reality, download allowance remains the final frontier to be crossed before online HD entertainment becomes a viable option for the majority of UK broadband users. Only ISPs that can match these demands will remain viable options for the average video-hungry user."