Bandwidth is the total amount of information that can flow through the various rivers, streams and other tributaries of the Internet; it’s not a measure of speed, but of capacity. In the early days of the Internet, this bandwidth was dedicated primarily to education and research, but with the birth of a truly commercial Internet in 1995, bandwidth limitations became a much more serious issue as the public began to explore the Information Superhighway.
Today, entertainment and social media account for the lion’s share of bandwidth consumption. Streaming video giant Netflix accounts for more than a third of total bandwidth usage in North America during peak hours, and the combined tweets, Facebook posts and other social media output of active users make up almost 30% of all social media bandwidth use. And with peak usage outgrowing normal Internet usage by nearly ten percent, Internet traffic is likely to breach the “zettabyte threshold” sometime in 2015 (a zettabyte is equivalent to 1,000 exabytes, or one million one-terabyte hard drives).
The increasing importance of mobile computing has also altered our demand for bandwidth. As of 2013, nearly one in three website visits were made from mobile devices.
With a world of zettabytes and always-on mobile devices just around the corner, one thing’s for sure: as more and more entertainment, business and educational content moves from the physical realm to the Internet, the demand for bandwidth—and devices ready to use it—will only increase.