Got a 4King big TV? Ready to stream lots of awesome video? Yeah, about that…

Where's the bandwidth?


While electronics giants are showing off their internet-connected 4K TVs, most people still do not have the web bandwidth to stream stuff in ultra high-def.

That's the conclusion reached by the latest quarterly report [PDF] from internet backbone-manipulation outfit Akamai, which shows that only about 12 per cent of netizens have connections that would be able to reliably stream 4K video.

Akamai polled data gathered from its content-distribution network to put together an estimate of where on the globe service providers delivered speeds faster than 15Mbps – the bandwidth estimated for decent 4K streaming content, we're told. Netflix and Amazon, for example, expect to stream 4K stuff between 10 and 16Mbps using HEVC compression.

The thrust of the Akamai study is that most consumers around the world can't access enough bandwidth to stream 4K video.

Only South Korea sees a majority of its population (66 per cent) enjoying connections above the 15Mbps threshold. Second on the list is Hong Kong (37 per cent), followed by Japan (33 per cent), Switzerland (30 per cent) and The Netherlands (29 per cent). Neither the US nor the UK made the top 10, which was closed out by Belgium with 21 per cent.

Over the short term, Akamai found that the number of people with the bandwidth to comfortably stream 4K has decreased by 2.8 per cent worldwide sequentially quarter-to-quarter.

The finding follows a 2015 CES conference at which many of the top consumer electronics vendors showcased dozens of 4K TV sets to attendees, touted the ability to hook them up to the internet to stream content and talked up the virtues of picture resolutions four times higher than the current 1080p standard.

This isn't all to say, however, that 4K TV is in dire straits. Akamai has noted that the number of people with at least 15Mbps of bandwidth has gone up by 32 per cent worldwide, when comparing 2014 to 2013. And as the 4K sets drop in price and more 4K content becomes available, it's likely that a far greater percentage of the population will have the capacity to stream ultra-high-definition video.

Of course, the 4K material has to be available from the streaming site – some are already offering top quality video but not their entire catalogs – and the streaming biz has to be prepared to foot the higher bills for fatter streams.

This can all be worked out. While that's happening, it may be a good idea to take a gauge of your home internet speeds – and monthly download caps – before rushing out to the electronics store for that hot new set. An hour of 15Mbps video is going to tear 6.6GB off your monthly download limit. ®


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