Broadband 2020: It’s Not Just About Speed — It’s About Latency

Craig Leddy

Craig Leddy

By Craig Leddy

All the fuss over higher and higher internet speed is so-o-o-o last decade. In the 2020s, another feature is becoming increasingly important: low latency. —

Latency refers to the internet response time at the network edge, measured in milliseconds (ms). It’s that infinitesimal turnaround time from the instant you request information to the moment you receive it. And in the 2020s, the response time will need to get more infinitesimal.

Why? A primary reason is that the businesses served by service providers and their channel partners increasingly will rely upon technologies and applications that require instantaneous response time or a constant, two-way flow of digital bits.

Think about things like virtual and augmented reality for employee training, smart cities that are better synchronizing their traffic lights, micro-trades of financial securities, health care monitoring of remotely located patients, industrial robots that are always on the move or automated vehicles that require precise navigation. One little digital hiccup could wreak havoc.

Channel Partners’ “Cable Connection” column focuses on cable provider developments in business services and channel-partner relationships.

Broadband speed and throughput still remain vital — increasingly so in the upstream path. But that infinitesimal latency time in the network’s last mile could mean all the difference to companies in competitive environments.

For years, internet developers have concentrated on building the main highways that carry traffic. Now they’re focusing on improving the access ramps and local side roads, some of which are akin to bumpy dirt paths. The result will be a smoother ride, in and out of your driveway.

Low latency – very low latency – is a primary goal of two major initiatives that will dominate this decade: mobile’s 5G and cable’s 10G. The Gs stand for different things: for 5G, it means generation; for 10G, it stands for gigabit. While latency of 100 milliseconds or less is regarded as a good level even by esports gamers’ standards, both initiatives have a similar stated goal of latency at 1 ms, a nearly impossible level that is sure to give engineers fits.

If you recall your math class, a millisecond is 1,000th of a second. Engineers tend to say that they’re aiming for sub-5 milliseconds, as if that gives them solace.

Long Lag and High Ping

Comcast Fusion Arena, inside image

Comcast’s Fusion Arena for esports, opening in 2021, will put latency – and ping – to the test. (Image rendering courtesy of Comcast.)

Latency gets tied in with other technical terms, such as lag, which seems appropriate since it’s your Internet activity that is lagging in time. Esports gamers talk about ping; High ping means that your responses in a multiplayer game are moving slower than players with low ping and your character is likely to get killed first. Fortnite Battle Royale players are known to seek out servers that provide the lowest ping. (If I were a gamer I would blame ping whenever I would lose.)

Comcast will put ping to the test next year when it opens Fusion Arena, a $50 million, 3,500-seat esports venue in the heart of the Philadelphia Sports Complex. The high-tech arena will feature e-sports competitions as well as other live entertainment programming and experiences, Comcast said. In a related vein, Mediacom Business is providing a 1 gigabit fiber connection for the Columbus State University eSports Team in Columbus, Georgia, to increase its competitiveness through high speed and low latency.

Comcast also has announced the coming availability of …

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