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The Economics of Bandwidth


i really varies from country to country


I don’t know about cost, but I’ve used “sneakernet” several times because the performance is better. If I had 100Gib on Internet2, that would evaporate, but I’m in the US, and my company has a T1, so transferring even a few hundred GB takes a while. A T1 delivers:

192kiB/s or
~11.5 MiB/m or
~0.7 GiB/h
~16 GiB/d

So it takes a couple months to upload 1TB, whereas with Sneakernet you put it on a hard drive, and ship it in a day or two. So this make a lot of sense for US companies dealing with large datasets–unless you’re one of the select few with a true next-generation connection, sneakernet is faster.

Whether it’s cheaper is less clear, but it looks like it’s at least competitive. The numbers that are being thrown around, like 100Mib/s for US$45, are probably:

  1. Consumer prices (not available to companies).
  2. Restricted by terms-of-use agreements, preventing this sort of wild and sustained bandwidth usage.
  3. Download speeds, with vastly slower upload speeds. It doesn’t help if you can download at 100Mib/s, if the sender can only upload at 1Mib/s.

I’m speculating on all these, and please clarify if these aren’t the case, but that’s how it works in the US. You can get a good price on a pretty fast download pipe (in the US, that would be 5Mib/s), but the upload speed will be much slower (often under 1Mib/s), and they will cancel your account if you do anything like full utilization. They’re not intending to let you use 100Mib/s sustained; they couldn’t possibly afford it at that price. They’re thinking you’ll a few kib/s sustained (average), with bursts of 100Mib/s, so they can cram you and 100 neighbors into the same 100Mib/s slot. To really see what bandwidth costs, you cannot look at consumer prices, you have to see what they charge businesses for connections that can be fully loaded (they’ll still double those up, but not nearly as much).

When I first read about the big telescopes doing this, and wondered why they didn’t use the Internet, my collegue and I ran the numbers and realized how much faster it was to ship tapes. Our conclusion: great bandwidth, but lousy latency!

Several people asked what happens if the package is lost or destroyed in transit. Well, what if the packet is lost in transit? TCP re-sends it. In sneakernet, you are playing the part of TCP, so if it’s lost or destroyed, you hear that from the recipient, and you send another one. Packets are rather expensive in sneakernet, but if your network is of a quality that few packets are lost, the average cost to re-send one won’t be high. There’s a cost in time too, just like TCP, but where TCP can resend the packet in a few ms, it will take you a day or more. If you want to reduce the change of a catastrophic loss, follow TCP’s example and use smaller packets; send it on individual 100GB hard drives, in separate shipments, and resent only those that don’t arrive intact.

Great bandwidth, lousy latency!


Your DSLs are messed up.
Here in Finland atleast it’s a lot different, i pay for 8/1Mbps home DSL 45€ per month, or roughly 59USD and you can get with 85€ per month you can get 24/3Mbps ADSL2, and ain’t the cheapest place.
85€ comes to about 100USD per month with exchange rate of 1.3.

Also the same expensive place offers 3/1M DSL for 36e per month.

So at best, price is doubled, but bandwidth -6- times more upstream per dollar :slight_smile: On top of that, you can get 2.3/2.3 SDSL for about 60€ per month if you are lucky :slight_smile:

Also, there are some restricted area offerings for way better rates (think under 30€ per month for 10/10) :slight_smile:

DSL aren’t bandwidth capped nor restricted here at all :slight_smile: and on top of that, here you can get an 10Mbps Colo place for 150€ per month.

Also like Colo Owner said you can get with softlayer for 0.10$ per GB, but best deals i’ve seen have been 0.03-0.06$ per GB.


Yeah, as some people have already mentioned, the prices are way out of whack for what I’m used to. I’m paying $28/month (after the extra communication fees they tack on) for 6 mbit downstream, 768 kbit upstream. Since 8 kbit = 1 KB, that means both my upload and my download are 4x what’s listed for basic DSL, and the cost is 7% less. The average cost per GB, then, is about 6.6 cents each way:

Average cost each way per the original article: (0.06 + 0.51)/2 = 28.5 cents

(28.5/4)-(.07 x 28.5/4) = 6.62625 cents average cost each way.

Let’s ignore the costs of the tape media for the SneakerNet. There’s still another big factor to consider:

You’re paying the phone bill whether you’re using the connection or not. I haven’t come across a connection that charges per bandwidth since I first got cable in 1996 with @home. So you’re left with the choice of either A) spending $1,500/TB for the Sneakernet or B) paying that $2,000 for your 99% unused bandwidth during the time in which you could be transfering that TB of information, at no extra cost.

The only time I could imagine this being practical, barring a per-bandwidth charge on your line, is if you’re transferring more than one huge set of data at a time and need it all to be done quickly.

Please feel free to point out any errors in my logic… I’m really not seeing the efficiency of a sneaker net, though.


One thing I should reiterate that a lot of people seem to be overlooking:

1MB is not the same as 1Mbps or 1Mbit. MB = megabyte, whereas Mbit, Mbps, Mb, etc = megabit. Internet service providers always list the speed in bits or bauds. There are 8 bits in one byte, so an 8Mbit/1Mbit connection is actually 1MB/128KB in the terminology of the original article. Because the topic is the transfer of terrabytes of info, the author presumably did the conversion off the bat to simplify everything.

I accounted for that discrepancy in my previous post, though.


i pay nz$99 for 40gb bandwidth on a cable plan :frowning: New Zealand is very expensive. Over here, sneakernet would probably be worthwhile for large corporations.


Wasnt there a competition a few years ago as to who could transfer a TB of data the fastest(from london to paris iirc).
i think the winner just airmailed a box of HDDs.

and then i read about a rant for a p2p network based off a similar idea, except on a much more local scale (couriers, dead drops etc)

with flash memory getting cheaper and cheaper(and internet data transfer costs not really) i think the old mail service might be in for a revival


Hi all, long time reader, first time commenter. I’ve put together a calculator where you can play with the various assumptions above to see how the numbers would change.


Thought you would find this useful…


Does that mean NetFlix’s business model of movies by mail will still be a good business model?


All you kids are forgetting to take into account one critical factor: pollution! If we all use SneakerNet to send things around the world, we are increasing the amount of CO2 and otherwise pollution into the atmosphere, further destroying the ozone, making the Earth warmer, making even more hippies even more upset, making Bush-Family/EvilOilCorporations even more filthy rich. Iraq war rages on (if it’s for oil). Taxes go up (in the US). More people die. Skin cancer danger goes up 10,000% from no ozone leaving us to move underground where we’ll just end up building superfiber connects everywhere (hopefully) like Sweden and Japan have done it (and how it should be in the U.S. if all that Telco tax-cutting that happened years ago to “build a great and all powerful nation-wide infrastructure” had actually happened instead of them trying to get even richer with this anti-Net Neutrality crap, etc.



Reminds me of the truck full of videotapes from A. Tanenbaum’s “Computernetworks”. The truck has a high bandwidth, but low throughput.


The pricing seems outdated. With european web hosts offering $0.10 and less per GB overage to every customer, I doubt that YouTube pays that nowadays.
With bandwidth and flash memory becoming cheaper each day, it will be interesting to see how this calculation works out in 1 or 2 years.


That’s not ACCURATE AT ALL!! I have Verizon DSL and I get about 350 KB/sec Downstream and 60 KB/sec upstream (3360 Kbit/sec down and 768 KBit/sec up)… And I only pay $30 a month.


David, that’s excellent pricing. I have SBC DSL, 1.5 Mbit down 384 kbit up, and pay $25. Anyway, ZMODEM, that brings back memories…and we were lucky to have ZMODEM (it was so much better than xmodem)


Just for completeness (I can’t find the %-age quote), this Cringely on 19 Jan.

Looking at this problem from another angle, right now somewhat more than half of all Internet bandwidth is being used for BitTorrent traffic, which is mainly video. Yet if you surveyed your neighbors you’d find that few of them are BitTorrent users. Less than 5 percent of all Internet users are presently consuming more than 50 percent of all bandwidth.


“Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon loaded with tapes barrelling down the highway at 70mph.” - a quote that stuck in my mind from many years ago.


Shouldn’t your cost calculation of network transfers include BOTH sides of the connection, since sender and receiver must both have high speed connections for a fast Net transfer to occur?

This would essentially double the cost of the Net transfer relative to the physical delivery option.


In australia prices for adsl/cable bandwidth costs anywhere between $3/GB to $150/GB (Tel$tra) - so the sneakernet works even better!


Let’s add cell phone bandwidth to these calculations. At $0.03/KB, transferring a terrabyte would cost you roughly $300,000. At 2.4KB/sec that should take … uhh … My calculator can’t go that high.


Your prices are completely out to lunch on the costs of various internet connections. To give you an idea, our home is paying less than $35 USD each month and receiving sustained 5Mb down and 1Mb up per second. And if I chose to I could have 10/5 for about $60.

The problem is bandwidth capping, most ISPs will charge you a fortune for bandwidth over and above your usual usage. That said, I’m also not a business user, but I can imagine that a business internet plan with similar specifics and -much- higher bandwidth shouldn’t cost even a fraction of the prices you have listed.