Monday, March 30, 2009

Time for a new term?

I've been struggling to keep my head above water, which is a suitably vague explanation for the dearth of posts recently. One project I've been working on has me pondering broadband in the broadest sense. There's certainly no shortage of data to ponder, what with the newly released Akamai report, and last week's WEF Networked Readiness report and updated analysis from Point Topic

One thing I have been thinking about is the long-term viability of the word "broadband." As SamKnows has demonstrated in the UK, one man's "broadband" is another man's "dial-up" in practice. When we talk about a global average access speed of 1.5Mbps, as observed by Akamai, we're clearly a long, long way from ubiquitous broadband Nirvana for all. Still, it's faster than dial-up, so technically it's broadband. However, when I see Korea with an average speed of 15Mbps, 69% of all connections at more than 5Mbps, and 94% of all connections at more than 2Mbps, the term seems to be almost meaningless. 

"Broadband", as with terms to describe other previous technology innovations, such as the "horseless carriage" and "wireless telegraphy", currently seems to be defined more by what it isn't, rather than what it is. In a market like Korea, where virtually no narrowband exists anymore, what does broadband mean, exactly? Connected, basically. And more broadly, when a single term can be used in various markets to indicate a range of >256kbps to 1Gbps and above, isn't it essentially a nonsense? And don't even get me started on the asymmetrical vs. symmetrical connection issue. 

The video industry has been extremely successful in carving out a brand identity for HD as separate from SD TV - no one would claim that an analogue broadcast and 1080p are the same experience, though both are broadly defined as TV (okay, I know there's been a lot of marketing fudge in practice, but the standards say either it's HD or it ain't). My sense is that we need to start looking for a new term (or terms) to use in place of "broadband", both because it doesn't mean much today, and is likely to mean even less in future. 

Anyway, I'd be curious to hear any suggestions out there as to long-term alternative descriptors. Now it's time to crank up my broadband, get on the Infobahn and download some "talkies".  


Anonymous said...

(mega | multimega | giga | multigiga ) & band

James Enck said...

I like it, Anonymous. But I think we should drop "band" from the equation. It sounds much better to just say "multimega", or even better, "multigiga".