Streaming data, it’s both a sales pitch and a problem

Streaming data, its both a sales pitch and a problem

As I’ve mentioned earlier I’ve switched networks recently and, whilst looking around, I checked into my usage habits.

Streaming. That’s a big one. I love TuneIn because, put simply, every single station I find on FM radio is very samey and full of similar-sounding DJ’s saying similar-sounding things. The app has opened up a whole world of professional radio stations such as JemmOne, which I’ve listened to around the house and at work.

Two years ago I plugged my phone into my car stereo and streamed music through it. The results are here and we found that a normal 128kbps stream consumed around 1MB a minute. Sounds OK doesn’t it? But if you listen to an internet radio station in the same way as an FM radio station – let’s say as background music for a whole working day, the data consumption cranks up quite significantly.

This is a fairly extreme example, but let’s remember that a number of mobile networks offering “unlimited data”. Many have hit the “very small minority” of customers who use a large proportion of the bandwidth. For example, giffgaff have been known to stop people who stream data constantly, as it’s a constant “pull” on the network and the local mast. Streaming is a constant data connection which doesn’t break or stop like a standard download would, so it impacts people who are using the same mast. They’re getting less of a share of that bandwidth.

Perhaps the simplest way to explain it is to imagine a motorway. The motorway is the data pipe serving your local mast. If you request a webpage then a car goes up one side of the motorway and then comes back down the other side with your webpage. It’s quick and leaves the lanes free for others. An audio stream is slightly different. It’s like a line of trucks all sitting in lane one. They’re moving, albeit slowly, and they’re reducing capacity.

Streaming data, its both a sales pitch and a problem

Now, these are rough figures. I’ve not included much overhead for your email, Twitter or Facebook apps which will pull data down too. Let’s say I sit down at 9AM and stream a 128kbps for 8 hours a day.

– A “128k stream” is 60MB an hour. That works out at 480MB if you leave it running between 9 and 5 (8 hours).

– A “192k stream” is around 86.4 MB per hour or 1.44 MB per minute. For 8 hours this works out at 691 MB.

– Crank it up to a real high bit-rate and a “256k stream” is obviously double the 128 stream, so 2MB a minute or 120MB on an hour. That’ll easily blow a GB in one day (ok, 960MB but it’s near enough)

Streaming data, its both a sales pitch and a problem

Most of us won’t mess around with a 192kbps or 256kbps stream on internet radio, but with Spotify it’s a bit different – I’ll come back to this in a moment. However a 128kbps stream is usually offered up by most internet radio stations, so don’t be surprised if you stand up at the end of the working day to find that nearly 500MB has vanished from your allowance. If you do this every day for five working days you’ll easily pull 2.5GB per week. Think about that even if you’ve got an internet radio on WiFi and leave it on in the office or at home – it’ll impact your data allowance quite a bit unless you’re a bit careful with usage.

I mentioned Spotify earlier and it’s worth a quick look at this too if you’re using it on your phone. I’ve dug out the details and the Spotify mobile “low bandwidth” option is actually 96kbps, which is 43.2MB every hour or 345.6MB if you leave it running for 8 hours a day. The Spotify mobile “High Quality” setting is actually 160kbps, so you’re looking at 72MB per hour or 576MB over 8 hours. If you switch up to the Spotify mobile “Extreme quality” setting then you’re pulling at 320kbps – that’s 144MB every hour, so you’re not even going to get 4 hours of music on a 512MB data package. Leave that running for 8 hours and it’ll consume 1.12GB.

To be honest, this situation is all a bit crap. Yes, crap. I said it.

This isn’t the way it should be. The internet now isn’t the way it should be either. This “internet” that you’re fed now is heavily controlled, monitored, filtered, managed and limited. We should be able to listen to as much of the music that we want. We should be able to watch all the streaming TV and video that we want, but the plain fact is that if we all start doing that, it’ll give the networks yet more problems, and they’ll either have to build bigger and better (as some have) or start twiddling knobs here and there to box us into the shape they want.