Do you really need gigabit to the home?

OK, I’m going to get in a little bit of hot water over at AT&T HQ. They’re in the midst of a big push to roll out gigabit fiber to homes they serve, following the lead set by Google and other companies. And I’m going to tell you, that right here, right now in 2016, there’s no way you need it.

Let me get my rationale out of the way.

Imagine the worst case scenario you can think of. Your kids bring ten of their friends over and they all try to stream 4K Netflix to the same time. (Now, this would be difficult, since you’d need 10 different 4K streaming players, but that’s not the point, This is total fantasy, that’s the point.) Even at a top-end streaming speed of 20Mbps, all those kids would take up 200Mbps meaning that if you had “only” 250Mbps speed you’d be totally set. No gigabit required.

OK, you say, what about something like (legally) downloading torrents? OK, let’s take another worst-case scenario. Let’s say someone did a sloppy job on a Blu-ray disc transfer (of totally legal material) and you need to download a 50GB file. Let’s further say that the computer you’re downloading it from also has gigabit speed. Then you’re talking about downloading the entire thing in 400 seconds, in other words 7 minutes. Are you really telling me that you need to download a file like that in 7 minutes? I mean, really. If it took you 30 minutes would you really complain? And I should point out that most (legally) ripped Blu-rays are re-encoded so at most they are 10GB, which theoretically would take you about a minute and a half to get. How impatient are you?

OK, scenario #3. You work from home and you need to transfer files up and down. Unless you work for Akamai, some large web host or one of the backbone providers, your company probably doesn’t have gigabit. Commercial adoption of high-speed internet usually lags about 2-3 years behind residential, because it’s more expensive per customer to get that high-speed fiber out to those locations. Ask your IT guy. Chances are you’re talking about 25-50Mbps for the whole company. I’m serious.

So pardon me for saying that it’s nothing but bragging rights getting gigabit fiber. Until… it isn’t.

Now, it wasn’t that long ago that I said that no one needed more than 15Mbps to the home, and it wasn’t long before that when I said no one needed more than 3Mbps. Things change. And I have to say that I’m glad AT&T is getting all that gigabit fiber out there because by the time they finish running it, maybe there will be some reason to have it. Maybe it will be massive virtual reality scenarios, or 8K video chat, or I don’t know what. All I know is there’s guaranteed to come a point when you will actually need gigabit internet. That point just isn’t today. So when your friends start to brag, just smile. Your turn will come, and there will still be plenty of time.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.