What's the point of Gigabit broadband?


(This is a curmudgeonly post which is going to look ridiculously outdated in a few years.)

My yearly contract with my ISP has just come to an end, so it was time to shop around for a better deal. They presented me with the following monthly options:

  1. Drop to 100Mbps for the same price I'm paying today (£44)
  2. Keep at 350Mbps for a tenner more (£55)
  3. Rise to 500Mbps for a fiver more (£49)
  4. Go to GIGABIT for a lot more (£60)

Mmmmmm GIGABIT...!

Obviously it's classic anchor pricing. And obviously I fell for it. And obviously I negotiated a £50 bill credit for signing a new contract. But I only went with the half-gig option. Even then, I feel like I've bought a sports car and use it to pootle to the village shop and back.

Netflix reckons that 25Mbps is good enough for its 4K service. Even if my wife and I are both watching super-high-def-hdr-surround-sound-smellovision - what do we do with the other 450Mbps?

Once in a while we might download a 60GB video game (!!!). At 350Mbps, that'll take 22 minutes. At 500Mpbs, 16 minutes. That's six whole minutes saved (!!!). Going to 1Gbps means the game is downloaded in 8 minutes. But that's assuming the game company's CDN can sustain that speed. It probably can't.

Now we're in the land on constant video calling, the faster upload that we get is nice. Sadly it's hard to get symmetric speeds in the UK - so we're stuck with "only" 40Mbps up. But, again, even with both of us streaming 720p laptop-cam footage, it's not really taxing the connection.

It's nice when I have to upload a large file to, say, YouTube. But most of my work is now "Cloud Native" so I'm rarely emailing megadocs to my colleagues.

Perhaps VR is the thing which will consume this data? I don't really know much about it - but strapping two 4K monitors to your face, surround audio, and positional metadata doesn't sound like it is going to tax my fibre connection.

I suppose if you're a family of 10, then having 100Mbps each is handy. Delivering Gigabit is essential to the future - and I'm sure something will come along to gobble it all up. But what?

I'm not quite so thick as to say 640k ought to be enough for anybody. But right now I'm struggling to think what I can do to take advantage of this glut of bandwidth.

Any suggestions?


35 thoughts on “What's the point of Gigabit broadband?

  1. says:

    Not read the blog yet, but my off the cuff comment would be “it gives marketing departments something to pitch…..”


  2. When the FTTH lobby was pushing for fibre rollout I was similarly mystified: what is the use case?
    That was in 2008, and you’re asking the exact same question in 2020.

  3. Weirdly, Symmetrical Gigabit Ethernet is of most value to the Telcos as it removes vast amounts of cost, risk and overhead from the network.


  4. Eric Andersen says:

    I think the problem stems from the inconsistency of service, so while nominal 100Mbps should be adequate for common use, there are times when that service as delivered drops to much lower levels. Buffering, pixelation, stalled performance are all symptoms. SO, to avoid the dips in service, we up the ante. If dips at 100Mbps drop to 10Mbps, perhaps dips in gigabit service drop to 100Mbps. So we buy “up” to avoid the lows.

  5. says:

    We had the same price increase that you quote for similar speed bracket changes. By any chance are you with an ex record label turned broadband provider? Anyway we dropped to 76Mbps from 150Mbps a year and a bit ago but instead of paying £45 we now pay £18. Never been happier :).

  6. I have the same feelings about 5G. At least for my use case (I generally use ~500Mb/month even outside COVID times) – I still struggle to see the higher download speeds as a game changer (though similar to your comment on uplink vs download speeds, lower latency on 5G is nice)

  7. Mike says:

    Utilise some of the upload bandwidth to seed a bunch of torrents for Linux distros or whatever 24/7 on something low powered like a Pi.

  8. says:

    We have 300Mbps and there are very few services that can max it out, so I have to agree. The only things I've seen reach its maximum speed are Epic Games and downloads straight from cloudfront, actually.


  9. Rich says:

    Wow, it's expensive in the UK! Check out the prices that French ISP SFR-RED are offering for €25/month:

    https://www.red-by-sfr.fr/offre-internet/

    1gbps down, 500up, unlimited minutes to French landlines and mobiles, unlimited minutes to landlines in most Western countries, and an extra €2/month if you want TV.

    That's FTTH btw.

    1. Sava (no kiddin' 😳) says:

      please do remember it's applicable only to big cities.
      no SFR could ever give me a FTTH gigabit in our village where 10Mbit ADSL is considered to be a friggin' miracle 🙄

  10. says:

    For me, just not having to worry about by internet speed being a problem, at least for a few years. I have a symmetric connection, so the faster upload is very handy. Day to day the lower latency is maybe more useful


  11. Alex B says:

    The only use cases I can think of are people routinely working with high resolution, high quality video - e.g. animators, video editors, or people doing digital forensics on filesystem images.

  12. says:

    Wait! I know the answer to this one ...

    So mostly of course it is bragging rights. But let's look a the reverse, if you're any type of IT professional or guru then living in a house with a pathetic DSL connection (say 5 Mb/s) is a mark of shame.

    For my part coming back to the UK with its SLLOOOOOOOW Internet except in a few City areas (yep most of London can say screw you) means that I had personally to choose something a lot slower than 1 Gb/sec internet.

    I can say that when (not in the UK) I used to cloud my entire large home setup I got upto 40MB/sec upload to my cloud providers. Every day just opening a few VM's caused a daily upload of about 0.5TB.

    Combine that infamous home web server was pushing over 500Mb/s constantly, and yes the 1Gb/sec symmetric connection I used to rely on came in very handy.

    Back in the UK you just can't get this sort of things unless you have somebody like Hyperoptic in London. Yep, I'm jealous.

  13. Alex says:

    I think you’re right. I think we’re getting to the point where latency is going to be far more important than bandwidth for things like cloud gaming (including VR).

  14. SB says:

    I WFH and have to download 4GB files multiple times per day.
    It hits 60MB/s, while my Wife is on a Webex call and my kids on Zoom.
    Gigabit is totally worth it.

  15. Jon says:

    You allude to 100mbit satisfying a house of 10 so I'm going to latch on to that.

    Avg web page size=3MB/24mbit https://speedcurve.com/blog/web-performance-page-bloat/
    Start render might be about half the page, say 10mbit to be round. A 100mbit connection might take 0.1s to start rendering the page, while 1gbit takes .01s. 1000 page loads avg per day, 30.5 days a month, this is ~45 minutes.

    Streaming audio/video quality is proportional to bandwidth, and 100mbit can incur performance hits, depending. No you don't need a gigabit, but just factor in the rare but not completely inconsequential occurrences.

    Unknown native app bandwidth changes. It is smaller but probably not inconsequential. I'll skip it to be generous.

    Your large downloads easily save 5-10 minutes. How many large downloads a month? Maybe 2? Well that conveniently gets us to 1 hour a month. That is each person in your house. How much does your household get paid? How do you value your time? Family time? Free time? Are you sitting there very every web page load (yes)? Are you sitting there for every large download (no)? Is this very hand-wavy (yes)? How much time is otherwise occupied by work, kids, life?

    Where are you spending your very few dollars difference to get the value an extra hour a month per household member would get you? There is some function of salary and valuation of free time where gigabit makes sense.

    1. says:

      I said that gigabit, divided by a house of ten, gets everyone 100Mbps each.

      But, regardless, I don't think you quite understand how time works. If you have nine pregnant people, you don't get a baby in one month. You can't add up all the milliseconds you save over the year and use them for something useful.

      1. Mike says:

        You can’t add up all the milliseconds you save over the year and use them for something useful.

        What if you put the milliseconds on a blockchain?

  16. Sean says:

    I have Google Fiber in the US, which provides 1Gig up and 1 Gig down, and I can say I can’t imagine my life without it. One of the biggest reasons I love it is that it just saves time. 6 mins vs 3mins is a big deal. 3 mins can be spent playing games with friends who already have the game. Google Fiber also has very low ping, so almost everything I do is instantaneous. I am a software engineer and all the tools I need to downloaded are finished in a matter of seconds and it doesn’t prevent me from continuing to do my work; the limitation is now my brain and not how fast I can download something. It is really a major quality of life improvement, and time is our most precious resource.

  17. Symmetry is far more predictable, you can sell the entire port or divide it up better. It is also how IP transit (ISPs to ISPs etc) is bought.

    Back when I did such things, it was B2B and we sold ports and 250/250, 500/500, 1000/1000 then 10G. We did oversell though 😅




  18. says:

    500/500 here, moving to 1000/1000 soonish.

    I wanted fibre for stability, and to feed our servers without worrying about performance / user experience.

    Our jitsi instance can be bandwidth hungry, and file transfers are like lightning.

    Do we stress the link? No.

  19. says:

    5 of us in the house. 2 people working and 3 children home schooling all on video calls. Or later in the day a child watching an UHD movie, another gaming, us still working. It often creaks under the pressure. We get FTTP next year and gigabit broadband and I can’t wait.


  20. I switched from 100Mbps Virgin to 65Mbps BT FTTC - lower pings, lower packet loss, and a faster ‘browsing experience’. The bottleneck is really the sheer number of connections that it takes to load any website these days!



    1. Alex says:

      We have both A&A FTTC 65Mbps and Virgin 350Mbps and I can’t tell the difference. According to my gateway Virgin falls over more often, that’s about it.

  21. It all really depends what you do.

    It's all about the upload speed for me - I'm regularly creating and uploading multi-gig video files and so the speed is very handy in regards to my workflow - I treat file transfer as if it is across a local network.

    Moreover with both my Wife and I working at home - I can do this while she teaching online and I don't have to worry I'm impacting here.

  22. says:

    Is the latency / contention ratios the same for all those connections? Want to disagree (because POWER) but struggling to find a hole in your argument.



  23. Personally bidirectional gigabit bandwidth means I can push cloud backups of local storage (way too much of that) in pretty short periods without having any affect on normal network activity.
    And the setup I have cost only around £30 pcm due to local fibre digs.



  24. Neal Harlow says:

    I have a 30 devices, and my 3 daughters stream TV and do remote learning via google meet due to covid 19, also I work from my home office and REMOTE DESKTOP into my customers environment to assist with issues. I never thought I would need a gigabit network at home, but after all that and turning my house into a smart house. I am wondering when they will come out with 10 Gigabit for the home. Most datacenters all ready have 10 Gigabit BW to service there customers, but with the new way of doing work from home. BW is running out fast I think. Datacenters may have to to upgrade to 1000 Gigabits BW in the future to keep up.

    1. says:

      I get you. Five years ago, I had 30 devices - and it has only grown since then.

      But are all 30 of your devices constantly downloading at 30Mbps simultaneously? As codecs get more efficient, the need for rapidly growing bandwidth is likely to slow down.

  25. Neal Harlow says:

    Also as a Note:

    If you by the Gigabit connection. Make sure your WIFI is one of the new types that can handle it like MIMO TRIBAND/QUADBAND Etc.... Other wise your just wasting your money unless everything is hardwired using Cat 5E or RG6 or RG58. Infrastructure is very important.

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