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Does transferring a terabyte of data via sneakernet make sense? First, consider the bandwidth capabilities and monthly cost of  a few common Internet connections.

    Cost
(month)     Download rate
per second     Upload rate
per second
56.6 Modem     $15     5 KB     4 KB
DSL     $30     192 KB     24 KB
DSL, Premium     $50     384 KB     48 KB
Cable     $50     300 KB     30 KB
Cable, Premium     $80     600 KB     60 KB
T1     $300     192 KB     192 KB
T3     $1,400     5.4 MB     5.4 MB
OC-3     $7,500     19 MB     19 MB

Of course, costs may vary; I chose costs that jibed with my personal experience and lined up with a few cursory searches for pricing around the web. Please let me know you think these costs are way out of line. Assuming for the sake of argument that these are representative costs and throughput rates, how much would it cost to transfer, let's say, a 20 gigabyte HD-DVD file?

    Download 20 GB     Upload 20 GB
56.6 Modem     49 days     $24.27     61 days     $30.34
DSL     1¼ days     $1.26     10 days     $10.11
DSL, Premium     15 hours     $1.05     5 days     $8.43
Cable     19 hours     $1.35     8 days     $13.48
Cable, Premium     10 hours     $1.08     4 days     $10.79
T1     1¼ days     $12.64     1¼ days     $12.64
T3     1 hour     $1.98     1 hour     $1.98
OC-3     17 minutes     $3.05     17 minutes     $3.05

And how much could we upload or download in total, assuming we had these connections going full-bore, around the clock?

    in 24 hours     in 1 month
    Download     Upload     Download     Upload
56.6 Modem     422 MB     338 MB     12 GB     10 GB
DSL     16 GB     2 GB     475 GB     59 GB
DSL, Premium     32 GB     4 GB     949 GB     119 GB
Cable     25 GB     2 GB     741 GB     74 GB
Cable, Premium     49 GB     5 GB     1.5 TB     148 GB
T1     16 GB     16 GB     475 GB     475 GB
T3     472 GB     472 GB     14 TB     14 TB
OC-3     1.6 TB     1.6 TB     49 TB     49 TB

Let's say we wanted to send a terabyte of data via sneakernet:

    * Two 500 GB hard drives weigh about five pounds; we can wrap the drives in bubble wrap and fit them in a standard FedEx box.
    * It costs about $60 to send five pounds in a standard FedEx box coast-to-coast in 24 hours.
    * The total transit time is 32 hours: 24 hours, plus 8 hours to copy the data on and off the drives.

We just transferred data at the rate of 9.1 megabytes per second. The only internet connection that's capable of our sneakernet throughput level is the OC-3. None of the others are even close, particularly if you consider the highly asymmetric nature of consumer connections, where upload rate is a fraction of the download rate.

And what about the cost? Not including the $300 expense of the two hard drives (which I think is fair, because they're reusable), the total cost per gigabyte breaks down like so:

    Cost per GB
Downloaded     Cost per GB
Uploaded
56.6 Modem     $1.21     $1.52
DSL     $0.06     $0.51
DSL, Premium     $0.05     $0.42
Cable     $0.07     $0.67
Cable, Premium     $0.05     $0.54
T1     $0.63     $0.63
T3     $0.10     $0.10
OC-3     $0.15     $0.15
Sneakernet     $0.06     $0.06

It wasn't obvious to me, but the sneakernet math clearly works. This is exactly the kind of insight Jim Gray was famous for.

Jim also says the cost of internet bandwidth was roughly a dollar a gigabyte for Microsoft in 2003. Is that still how much internet bandwidth costs today? According to the figures I found, the only connection that expensive today is a modem. And who uses modems any more? It seems implausible that consumer internet bandwidth would be sold cheaper than large blocks of commercial internet bandwidth. Let's take a look.

    * Amazon's S3 service charges 20 cents per gigabye to transfer data.
    * Robert X Cringely regularly gets charged 20 cents per gigabyte for NerdTV, and guesses that large bandwidth consumers like YouTube can negotiate rates as low as 10 cents per gigabyte.
    * Mitch Ratcliffe did a survey of internet providers and found that most charge 85 cents per gigabyte, and he proposes YouTube could negotiate a rate of 45 cents per gigabyte.

I'm not sure who to believe. It's a good sign that most estimates are under the $1.00 per gigabyte rate that Jim quoted in 2003. I'd like to think that the cost of internet bandwidth is getting less expensive over time. High bandwidth costs lead to a de-facto "popularity tax", and that's like a giant wet blanket over content creators. Cheaper bandwidth is a net public good: it leads directly to more content, and higher quality content, for everyone.

 

Posted on Thursday, January 24, 2008 10:55 AM | Back to top


Comments on this post: Bandwidth costs and time for Sneakernet

# re: Bandwidth costs and time for Sneakernet
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Just FYI: the 85 cent cost for a GB of throughput is a number now well over a year old. It's probably much lower now.
Left by Mitch Ratcliffe on Jan 24, 2008 7:27 PM

# re: Bandwidth costs and time for Sneakernet
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@Mitch Ratcliffe
Oooh your right looks like I need to change some numbers.
Thanks for the heads up.
!mike
Left by mikedopp on Jan 24, 2008 10:47 PM

# re: Bandwidth costs and time for Sneakernet
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thank you for this interesting info
nice article, i love reading your blog
Left by alergia on Nov 05, 2009 4:30 PM

# re: Bandwidth costs and time for Sneakernet
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Interesting info, but in mu country we have other different prices. great post, thanks
Left by credito rapido on Nov 21, 2009 12:26 PM

# re: Bandwidth costs and time for Sneakernet
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Interesting article about the Bandwidth costs.
Thank you for sharing
Left by alergia on Dec 08, 2009 3:56 PM

# re: Bandwidth costs and time for Sneakernet
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excellent post, thank you for sharing
Left by acaros on Dec 13, 2009 10:09 AM

# re: Bandwidth costs and time for Sneakernet
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excellent post, thank you for sharing
i love reading your blog
Left by onagra on Dec 15, 2009 10:51 AM

# re: Bandwidth costs and time for Sneakernet
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In Germany we have prices higher! but much higher!!!!
these are great prices for bandwidth. Interesting info and blog
Left by credito rapido on Dec 25, 2009 5:38 AM

# re: Bandwidth costs and time for Sneakernet
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thank you for this interesting info. i was looking for something like this.
i enjoy reading your blog
Left by acido folico on Jan 07, 2010 10:59 AM

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