Getting smarter about bandwidth

latakoo iPhone appToo many apps and services treat bandwidth as an unconstrained, ubiquitous resource. We think that’s wrong, for a number of reasons.

Over at The Verge today, Chris Ziegler has announced the death of unlimited bandwidth cellphone plans:

Some carriers — notably AT&T — have been aggressively deploying additional capacity in urban areas to the point of maxing out. This is where capitalism comes into play: one by one, all-you-can-eat data plans have been replaced by data buckets of varying sizes. Outrageous per-kilobyte overage charges (from legacy limited plans), a vestige of slow networks and dumb phones with smalls screens and limited capabilities, have been replaced by more reasonable rates that bill by the full gigabyte. If you go over by a gig or two, you’re not immediately bankrupted anymore — but you will pay more.

You can read the full piece over here. The upshot is that because the cellphone spectrum is limited, and because data usage is increasing 40% year on year, the networks are maxing out and passing the squeeze they’re feeling onto their customers.

According to Cisco, video accounted for 40% of all consumer Internet bandwidth in 2010, and this looks set to continue. With all the talk of how 4G LTE cellphone connections have broadband speeds, there’s no reason in the world why this wouldn’t continue over to mobile. Yet, that bandwidth is getting constrained and becoming more expensive – and video is moving to high definition, which requires a much larger amount of storage.

As app developers, we don’t know what kind of connection you’re on when you use our service. A lot of people use the latakoo Flight desktop software on 3G or 4G modems, for example. There’s a lot you can do with video once it’s in the cloud – private management, sharing, archival and collaboration – but getting it there is both slow and expensive. A single minute of uncompressed HD footage can be a couple of gigabytes in size. Imagine trying to squeeze a news report or some unedited footage through a 5Gb metered data plan!

So early on in latakoo’s development, we decided to compress video before sending it to the cloud. We harnessed the fact that computers are faster and more powerful than they’ve ever been, and decided to trade a more difficult development process for a much easier user experience. It’s possible to make video sizes much smaller while protecting quality, and as a result, that 2Gb uncompressed HD file could be sent in minutes over a 3G connection, without significantly affecting your bandwidth bill.

It’s not just about video: even in this era of fast speeds and powerful computers, we still need to be careful about what goes over the wire. Efficient protocols and judicious management of resources continue to be as important in computing as ever.

There’s some interesting conversations to be had between carriers, software platform owners and consumers. But until then, we see it as our responsibility as app developers to continue to produce the best possible experience for the user, whatever the constraints.

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