Bandwidth for video – how much is enough?

March 19, 2013   |   Oliver Johnson

Recently one of the major consumers of bandwidth in the world, Netflix, went live with a website that lists the amount of bits that our operators provision for us to watch a video stream.

“It’s interesting to see ISPs compared.  The spread in bandwidth values returned is revealing with the top operator in the UK provisioning a third as much again as the bottom for Netflix,” says Oliver Johnson, CEO at Point Topic.

Video is the great demand driver for a fast internet connection both today and as far as we can tell tomorrow.  Netflix accounts for up to a third of internet traffic at times and has helped make video the single most important factor when it comes to bandwidth.

With some more detailed data available Point Topic has made some quick calculations to provide an estimate of bandwidth demand today.

“If you were to run your services for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, then we believe a standard family would consume somewhere between ten and thirty terabytes of data a month,” says Johnson.

For context 10 Terabytes is equal to approximately 3 times the data you could download over an 8Mbps DSL connection running at full speed, 24 hours a day for a month.   It is also just under the average of what an FTTc customer in the UK could expect to be able to download in a month of full time usage and at around 12 terabytes is approximately 2% of a gigabit fibre connections full capacity.

In fact we looked at a range of household scenarios.  From Single Sam, who would most likely peak at six terabytes a month, through the Digital Family up to the Hacker Household.

“If you’ve got video streams, peer to peer traffic, gaming and everything else going full pelt you might make it to 150 terabytes in a month in the Hacker Household.  Still less than half what you can download from a gigabit service,” says Johnson

Consumers have enough bandwidth to cope with video and all the other services available to them at least in theory.  However if everyone continues using their connections more and more, and that’s what’s happening, then we’ll see more pressure on the operators in the coming years.

Operators will continue to manage their networks to provide the best return they can while keeping their customers happy but something will have to give and it will likely be video that gets squeezed first.

“More traffic from over the top suppliers and more traffic overall means operators have to traffic shape to survive.  We’ll see bigger gaps in customer experience between operators in the future but perhaps not for long if consumers can see how everyone compares ,” says Johnson


The Household Profiles

Single Sam – lives alone, affluent enough to afford the connection and services demanded.  Digitally savvy with at least 2 devices capable of connecting to the internet.  Will sometimes resort to P2P for entertainment sourcing.  Some work related activity.  Upstream bandwidth can sometimes be restrictive.

Digital Family – 2 adults, 2 children (under 18 but over 5). Affluent enough to afford the connection and services demanded.  Adults generally savvy, children were born with bits and bytes.  At least one device each with internet access. Will sometimes resort to P2P for entertainment sourcing but also some work related activity. Upstream bandwidth can sometimes be restrictive.

Hacker Household – changeable population but always at least 5 people.  All with at least 2 devices with internet access each.  No compunction using P2P, Usenet or any other source for entertainment but also exchange large data and other files, upstream bandwidth important.  Likely at least one Tor connection, possibly running servers and light use external websites.




bandwidth per

*Source – Netflix –

** Source – Point Topic estimates.  These are generalised (often grossly inflated) rounded values intended to provide an outer envelope not a precise representation of bandwidth consumed.