the old MegaUpload service consumed around 50 times more bandwidth than New Zealand’s entire international usage
The media infatuation with Kim Dotcom’s new Mega service overshadowed news last week from Southern Cross Cable about their price drops and capacity increases.

mega-nz_webThis may seem to be a non-sequitur.  What can Mega possibly have to do with the Southern Cross Cable?

I’ll answer that point but first need to set the stage.

For those that remember the days of, or are still using, dial-up Internet service, the maximum speeds were around 50 Kilo (50,000) bits per second.  Think of it in terms of walking on the roads.

Today, a slow broadband connection is around 1 Mega (1,000,000) bits per second, or 20 times faster than dial up.  Think of this as driving at the legal speed limit.

A fast broadband connection is achieving around 8 Mega bits per second which equates to a speed of 800 kph.  That’s equivalent to the speed that airplanes cruise at.

If we put this in to the context of a 600km journey between Auckland and Wellington, walking it would take around 125 hours, driving at the legal speed limit would take around six hours and cruising in a airplane around 45 minutes.

The analogy gives us a sense of the impact that speed makes to our broadband connection.  But whereas four people can drive to Wellington all at the same speed, in a data pipe, each doubling of the number of users will halve the maximum data speeds available to each.

This is the crux of the potential issue with Mega’s new service.

The old MegaUpload service was so popular that when the FBI shut it down on January 20th last year, there was a noticeable drop in global Internet traffic.  For a single on-line service provider that is a huge impact to have.

According to estimates by Sandvine at the time of its closedown, MegaUpload accounted for nearly 1% of North America data traffic, slightly less for Europe and almost twice that for the Asia-Pacific region. MegaUpload’s quirky promotional video on YouTube, claims a 4% share of global internet traffic and one billion users.

In comparison, last year, New Zealand accounted for a tiny 0.08% of global Internet traffic.

So as a rough estimate, the old MegaUpload service consumed around 50 times more bandwidth than New Zealand’s entire international usage and claimed around 250 times the number of users.

If that success is repeated with their new Mega service, and if their servers are located in New Zealand, then the speed and availability of our international broadband connectivity will be jeopardised.

With something like 80% of our Internet content coming from overseas, the Southern Cross Cable is critical to our Internet usage.  And given that nearly all of Mega’s users will be based outside of New Zealand, nearly all of that data will require the use of the same Southern Cross Cable.

The impact of that additional usage will to reduce the speeds available to the rest of us.  Each doubling of the number of users, halves the available maximum speed for all.  So that car journey to Wellington that would have taken six hours before Kim Dotcom setup shop, could now take 384 hours.

Could this be the reason that Mr Dotcom has proposed a new trans-Pacific fibre cable?  Unlikely, but Mega’s website discloses that they will not locate servers in the US and that they are looking to place many servers around the world.  Even then, Mega is likely to affect the performance of our international connections.