It's the Upload Speed

April 15, 2014 3:14 PM

According to the Wall Street Journal, the top five companies responsible for U.S. peak Internet traffic in 2013 were Netflix (32%), Google (22%), Apple (4.3%), twitch.tv (1.8%), and Hulu (1.7%).

For those of you who haven't been following along at home, Twitch.tv, the company coming in fourth place, the one that edged out the name-brand service that streams TV shows from NBC, Fox and ABC for free, is a platform devoted to streaming video of people playing computer games.

Twitch produces almost no content themselves, instead acting as a portal through which anybody can use readily available (often free) software to broadcast their own gaming shows, live. These shows are monetized through advertising and subscriptions, with Twitch passing a proportion of that revenue back to the streamer.

By their own statistics, Twitch reached a global audience of 45 million unique viewers a month, each of whom averaged 106 minutes of viewing a day. Regardless of what you think of the kind of person who will sit down in front of their computer to watch someone else play League of Legends, it's hard to argue that the numbers are astounding.

And for every big eSports organisation getting a million concurrent viewers for their grand finals, there are a dozen popular streamers broadcasting gameplay or doing shows from their bedrooms for thousands of viewers, making a decent living from advertising and subscription revenue. And for each of those, there are several hundred amateurs streaming to their friends, or whoever happens to pass by, hoping maybe to make the big time.

So what is the least you need to take part in this new, booming opportunity? A reasonably fast PC, a webcam and a microphone, and an Internet connection capable of reliably uploading 1080p video. (The resolution at which most modern games stop looking blurry).

Which might be why Australia is famous for having exciting events and world-class players, that only the most die-hard fan wants to watch because of the awful video quality. There could be thousands of young, hungry Australians competing in this exciting new market, trying to make money entertaining viewers around the world, but there aren't, because our Internet is shit.

Advances in Internet connectivity are usually measured in download speed, but download speed is only a measure of how efficiently you can consume the Internet. Upload speed is the measure of how you can change from being a consumer to a producer. Upload speed is what allows an Internet user to engage with the network as a peer. And it's not just the video-maker wanting to send their content to Twitch or YouTube, it's every knowledge worker who wants to send the product of their labour to someone else without a prohibitively expensive dedicated connection.

One of the more frustrating things in the early days of Atlassian was how insanely long it took to upload a new version of our software from our office in Sydney to the download servers in the USA, because even a business-grade ADSL line is still an ADSL line.

And this is why I am dismayed by the continually dwindling promise of the Australian National Broadband Network, now down to 25Mb/s down/1Mb/s up even in areas with fibre. It's not the download speed. At least until 4k video becomes the norm, 25Mbit is more than enough bandwidth to stream a high definition movie.

It's the upload speed. Falling from the originally planned 40Mb/s to 1Mb/s is the difference between telling your co-worker in the branch office a few suburbs over to grab a cup of coffee while you send them that file, and telling them it's probably faster if they get in a car, drive over and with a USB stick and pick it up themselves.

The advances in productivity, the opportunities to build the digital economy in Australia that should be the goal of a national infrastructure project like the NBN don't come from giving Foxtel and Netflix a bigger pipe to shovel content into our homes. They come from giving us connectivity that can talk back, that can let knowledge workers be just as productive without having to slog into an office every day, that puts small networked businesses on the same footing as the established heavy-weights, that allows entrepreneurs to build amazing things from home and loose them on the Internet.

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