Broadband applications: Categories, requirements, and future frameworks
First Monday

Broadband applications: Categories, requirements, and future frameworks by Jeff D. Saunders, Charles R. McClure, and Lauren H. Mandel

Recent telecommunications policies, private sector development, and grant funding have focused on increasing broadband deployment to traditionally unserved and underserved areas, with an emphasis on adoption, meaning the utilization of the broadband infrastructure by end users. However, users are unlikely to adopt broadband until they realize the potential of broadband for their everyday lives. Therefore, it is critical to illustrate to potential commercial and residential subscribers the programs and applications that require broadband to function properly in order to encourage them to adopt high–speed broadband connections. This paper is intended to foster discussion among local officials and others of the ways in which broadband applications can support and encourage broadband adoption, thereby justifying deployment of ubiquitous broadband.


Defining broadband capabilities
Current efforts to develop broadband applications
Current broadband application areas
Economic development and broadband applications
Future applications
Challenges to developing future applications
Understanding and meeting broadband needs




Recent telecommunications policies, private sector development, and grant funding have focused on increasing broadband deployment to traditionally unserved and underserved areas, with an emphasis on adoption, which is a critical issue to see return of investment on broadband deployment (Kolko, 2010b). First, it is necessary to clarify the difference between deployment and adoption. Deployment is the building of the infrastructure necessary to provide high–speed broadband Internet connections. Adoption is the utilization of the broadband infrastructure by end users, whether in institutions, businesses, or residences, that provides the benefits of broadband outlined in multiple government and organizational reports (Katz, et al., 2011; Holt and Jamison, 2009; Crandall, et al., 2007). The National Broadband Plan released by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2010 states that “ultimately, the value of broadband is realized when it delivers useful applications and content to end–users.” [1]

Applications, understood as computer software designed to perform certain tasks, that require broadband are critical to whether end users actually adopt and use broadband (Lammle, 2004). All the effort, time, and resources invested to deploy broadband networks necessitate the development of real applications that end users, either residential or commercial consumers, utilize through the higher speed connections. Only when users realize the potential of broadband for their everyday lives will they adopt (i.e., subscribe to) broadband Internet, thereby providing return on investment and sustainability of broadband networks.

Subscribership to broadband by commercial and residential users is critical to sustaining broadband networks after initial grant funding, such as the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2009), or other start–up capital runs out. Subscribership to the network requires a change in approach at the local level toward the need for broadband. Recent research reveals many consumers do not perceive a need for or understand what to do with high–speed broadband (LaRose, et al., 2007; McClure, et al., 2011a, 2011b). A significant problem is that, although there are many applications that run more quickly and smoothly with high–speed broadband than lower speed broadband (e.g., a 56 kbps connection), such as online shopping, there is an increasing number of applications that will require high–speed broadband for utilization, most of which transmit high–resolution images or streaming video, such as GIS systems and streaming Internet TV (Liu, et al., 2008).

While availability of broadband infrastructure is critical, just as critical is the need to illustrate to potential commercial and residential subscribers the programs and applications that require broadband to function properly in order to encourage them to adopt high-speed broadband connections. The Information Use Management and Policy Institute completed broadband needs assessments in the summer and fall of 2011 in Florida’s three rural areas of critical economic concern (RACECs) for the North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA) [2] and the Florida Rural Broadband Alliance (FRBA) [3] that revealed a serious lack of awareness about the potential applications of broadband. Residents and community leaders did not know exactly how broadband differed from the Internet service they were receiving or which applications are available through a broadband connection.

This paper developed from these previous studies and is targeted at providing local officials who are leading efforts to deploy and measure the impact of broadband in their communities with a better understanding of broadband capabilities and some current efforts already underway in broadband application development, including current applications, economic impact of broadband applications, future trends, and challenges for application developers. This paper is intended to foster discussion among local officials of the ways in which broadband applications can support and encourage broadband adoption, thereby justifying deployment of ubiquitous broadband.



Defining broadband capabilities

The term “broadband” generally is used to refer to high–speed Internet connections. However, there is a wide variety in what different government agencies, companies, and research organizations recognize as “broadband.” Essentially, broadband is a certain type of data rate or bit rate that allows a greater amount of data to transfer over a networked system than non–broadband connections (U.S. Federal Communications Commission, n.d.). A bit is the single electronic pulse used for the communication of information in computers, phones, printers, and other electronic devices. Bits are organized into larger units called bytes that are the standard measure of the amount of information being communicated or stored.

One byte is composed of eight bits, a kilobyte is 1,024 bytes, a megabyte is 1,024 kilobytes (1,048,576 bytes), and a gigabyte is 1,024 megabytes (1,073,741,824 bytes) (Freeman, 2001). The rate at which bytes are transmitted between devices is measured in kilo, mega, or gigabytes per second and is referred to as bandwidth (Freeman, 2001). For example, a typical dial–up Internet connection’s bandwidth is 56 kilobytes per second (kbps) and a T1 (trunk line 1) connection is 1.5 megabytes per second (Mbps). Broadband is simply a large amount of bandwidth provided on an “always on” connection that is capable of transmitting nearly unlimited amounts of data relatively quickly.

The FCC defines broadband as any connection that provides at least four Mbps download speeds and upload speeds of at least one Mbps (U.S. Federal Communications Commission, 2010). An upgrade from the previous FCC definition of broadband at 768 kbps, this minimum speed for broadband does not accurately define the speed needed to utilize applications requiring large amounts of bandwidth. As will be discussed in the following sections, many current and developing applications require speeds of 10 Mbps or more to operate effectively. Traditionally, application effectiveness is determined through the analysis of user perceptions that are influenced by the length of time it takes for critical files to download to a user’s workstation to allow the user to operate the application and accomplish designated tasks (Etezadi–Amoli and Farhoomand, 1996).

A number of factors that affect a network’s ability to meet connection speeds include distance to servers, network equipment, and end–user computer configuration (Bauer, et al., 2011). Practically speaking, these factors, and the nature of many new applications such as video conferencing, mean that the FCC definition is low. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) notes that speed is not the best way to define broadband due to rapid changes in the speeds necessary to accomplish certain tasks (Columbia Telecommunications Corporation, 2010). The SBA suggests that broadband be defined in terms of its ability to enable users to achieve operational goals and support broadband–enabled applications.

A major problem for users attempting to gauge speed requirements is a lack of knowledge about what can be done with what speed and uncertainty over cost–effective use of limited resources. Therefore, understanding the differences in capabilities of different connection speeds is explained best to the average user by demonstrating what can be accomplished with different speeds. Applications can be categorized into basic, mid–range, and advanced applications; these categories are based on the amount of bandwidth and technical skills required to set up and utilize the application. These designations help distinguish the differences among Internet applications.

If a user is only interested in basic Internet applications, then a four Mbps connection is all that is required; if a user wishes to move beyond basic applications, then a significant increase in both the amount of bandwidth and technical skill is required. Of course, it is possible to use an advanced application with a lower connection speed. However, the application would perform slowly, freeze, or fail to execute, ultimately meaning the user is unlikely to accomplish intended tasks. Table 1 provides examples of basic, mid–range, and advanced Internet applications. A four Mbps connection is sufficient for basic Internet applications such as e–mail and Web browsing; mid–range to advanced Internet applications, such as video conferencing and telecommuting, require significantly higher bandwidth to perform satisfactorily and effectively. Most Internet applications today fall into the basic to mid–range categories.


Table 1: Application speed requirement levels [4].
E–mail of simple text filesBasic
E–mail of files with attachments two MBs and largerBasic
Downloading small files (up to two MBs)Basic
Online e–commerceMid–range
Asynchronous online presentationsMid–range
End–to–end single user video conferencing [5]Mid–range
Remote access through virtual private network (VPN)sMid–range
Multi–end videoconferencing [6]Advanced
Distance learningAdvanced


Table 2 examines applications based on the amount of time it takes to complete tasks efficiently with different connection speeds. This information is adapted from research conducted by the SBA into the bandwidth requirements for a number of business–oriented applications (using the categories of highly adequate, adequate, and not adequate) (Columbia Telecommunications Corporation, 2010). For a file of any content up to two MBs, 20 seconds is considered highly adequate, 20–25 seconds is adequate, and more than 25 seconds is considered not adequate. For downloading larger files of any content up to two GBs, for example high–definition videos, a time of up to 10 minutes is considered highly adequate, 10–15 minutes is adequate, and more than 15 minutes is not adequate.


Table 2: Application completion times at different connection speeds [7].
ApplicationNetwork Download Speed
4 Mbps10 Mbps20 Mbps50 Mbps
Multi–point video conferencingNot AdequateAdequateAdequateAdequate
Download high–definition videoNot AdequateNot AdequateAdequateHighly Adequate
Server backup (one terabyte capacity)Not AdequateNot AdequateNot AdequateHighly Adequate
TelecommutingNot AdequateNot AdequateNot AdequateHighly Adequate
Distance learningNot AdequateNot AdequateNot AdequateHighly Adequate
TelemedicineNot AdequateNot AdequateNot AdequateHighly Adequate


Basic to mid–range level applications, where FCC–level broadband at four Mbps would be adequate to highly adequate, include online trading and e–business applications, real–time online meetings and presentations, and remote server access using a virtual private network (VPN). The mid–range level applications, however, represent the limits of a minimum broadband connection of four Mbps. Advanced level applications, such as distance learning and telemedicine, require at least a 50 Mbps connection or greater. This is a categorization scheme that cuts horizontally across the different industries and target audiences for which specific applications are developed. More specific examinations of adequate speeds for various applications are discussed in further detail below.



Current efforts to develop broadband applications

In February 2010, the Internet search engine giant Google announced a project to build an ultra–high speed broadband network at a trial location in Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri (Google, n.d.). Google is providing residents and businesses in Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri with access to one Gbps (1–Gig) connection speeds to see how residents respond (Brainzooming Group, 2011; Gustin, 2012). Local community groups met throughout September and October 2011 to identify possible uses for the connection, including greater community interaction, improved educational opportunities for citizens, and improved healthcare to immobile residents.

Google is taking a more hands–off approach in terms of developing new broadband applications compared to Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Gig City initiative. The city’s municipal electric and telecommunications network company, Electronic Power Board (EPB), in cooperation with investment from the European telecommunication company Alcatel–Lucent, completed its gigabit network rollout in mid–2011 and created a competition for broadband application ideas dubbed the GigTank. With categories for entrepreneurs and students, the awards for the best application concept and business plan include US$100,000 for entrepreneurs and US$50,000 for students, as well as interviews with investors for potential wide–scale development.

Both projects seek to provide answers to questions about how broadband will change end user behavior. An underlying theme in both projects is identifying the process that commercial and residential users go through to determine what speed meets their specific needs. Studies and programs attempting to answer these key questions have developed adoption indices, and examined socioeconomic factors. However, there remains no clear answer to questions regarding when a user’s needs surpass slower speeds and when he starts needing broadband, what the speed requirements are to use certain applications and further illustrate the need for broadband, or which applications require more speed than others.



Current broadband application areas

A broadband application area is defined here as a general grouping of applications designed for specific purposes that can apply to different types of industries and consumers. Some applications are designed for very specific audiences such as the large–scale dataset analysis programs that Axelerated Parafit uses to compare different evolutionary levels of trees (Stockinger, et al., 2011). Others have applicability to a wide variety of professional and industrial fields such as Skype, a video–conferencing and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) application. This means there are various ways to categorize applications by type as opposed to categorizing by system requirements. This paper examines five major areas of broadband applications broadly relating to improving quality of life, medical care, education, and governance. These application areas are:

  • Video–based applications;
  • Telehealth applications;
  • Distance learning applications;
  • E–government applications; and,
  • Emergency management operations applications.

These application areas represent a small number of possible applications of broadband. Each of the areas includes numerous issues and stakeholder groups presenting unique challenges for the development and adoption of new applications. The following sections review some of the prominent current applications within each area.

Video–based applications

One of the reasons advanced and mid–range applications require large amounts of bandwidth are the use of video and audio content. Video transfer is a component in many different applications. The focus here is on two prominent examples of entertainment–oriented applications, downloading media and online multiplayer games, and a business–oriented application, multi–point video conferencing.

Downloading media. Downloading movies and TV shows is big business for companies like Netflix, Hulu, and Apple. However, all of these companies perform a balancing act between the quality of the video content provided and the amount of bandwidth consumed by the user (Moon, 2012). These companies are concerned with bandwidth consumption due to some Internet service providers (ISPs) placing data caps on customers that consume more than a certain data amount each month. Application and software developers dedicate considerable time and resources to compressing video file sizes while maintaining a high level of image quality (eyeIO, 2012). The implementation of data caps varies by ISP and is a contentious issue (Fitchard, 2012). Apple provides customers with a general guide to file sizes and download times of different types of media for the purposes of managing data usage (Apple, 2012). Table 3 provides these file sizes and their download times for different types of media on networks with speeds of 4, 10, 20, and 50 Mbps [8].


Table 3: Entertainment media file sizes and download times at different connection speeds [9].
Media type and file sizeNetwork download speed
TypeSize4 Mbps10 Mbps20 Mbps50 Mbps
four–minute song4 MBs7.6 seconds3 seconds1.5 seconds0.6 seconds
five–minute video30 MBs57 seconds22.9 seconds11.4 seconds4.5 seconds
nine–hour audio book110 MBs3.4 minutes1.4 minutes42 seconds17 seconds
35–minute TV show200 MBs6.4 minutes2.5 minutes1.27 minutes30 seconds
45–minute HD TV show600 MBs19 minutes7.6 minutes3.8 minutes1.5 minutes
two–hour movie1.5 GBs47.6 minutes19 minutes9.5 minutes3.8 minutes
two–hour HD movie4.5 GBs2.3 hours57 minutes28.6 minutes11.4 minutes


A few seconds difference might seem trivial, but usability studies suggest each second it takes a user to accomplish a task with an application is a critical factor in user adoption and continued use (Tamir, et al., 2008). Often the download times for the larger TV and movie files are obscured by the fact that users can view the beginning of the videos while they are downloading. Even then, however, the user might experience a delay or interruption in delivery of the show or movie. This is referred to as network latency and there are many other factors that influence a network’s latency in addition to bandwidth, such as the distance a signal travels or the operating system on individual personal computers (PCs) (Mitchell, n.d.). Reduced latency is one of the main benefits of a broadband connection and large amounts of bandwidth are required to limit interruptions in service (Rutter, 2011). Latency is a major issue in interactive broadband applications such as multiplayer online gaming and video conferencing, discussed below.

Online multiplayer video gaming. Online multiplayer gaming is an economic juggernaut worth an estimated US$56 billion in 2011 alone (Economist, 2011). The demand for online gaming is arguably greater than any other broadband application and requires an extremely robust network to avoid interruption to players. Massive multiplayer online game (MMOG) communities can encompass hundreds of thousands of users and reach across international borders. World of Warcraft, the largest MMOG, has an estimated 10 million active players across the globe (Putzke, et al., 2010). MMOGs are the first truly successful virtual worlds, enjoying widespread adoption in all types of communities.

Former International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) chief executive Paul Twomey went so far as to say “game–like interfaces,” such as the Sims Online, were the future of global commerce (Biggs, 2007). An MMOG is an example of a core game, or a game that is played on a dedicated console such as Microsoft’s Xbox or on a PC or a video game in the conventional sense. The advent of mobile computing devices like smartphones and tablets is giving rise to new types of games commonly referred to as casual games that are lower image quality and designed to download and play on mobile devices (Kuittinen, et al., 2007). Core game file sizes can range anywhere from 3–15 GBs (CNET Forums, 2007; FileForums, 2003; FileFront, Inc., 2010; 2011). Table 4 gives specific examples of game’s file sizes and the time it would take to download each with 4, 10, 20, and 50 Mbps connections.


Table 4: Games’ file sizes and download times at different connection speeds [10].
Game and file sizeNetwork download speed
GameSize4 Mbps10 Mbps20 Mbps50 Mbps
The Sims 23.17 GBs1.6 hours40 minutes20.1 minutes8 minutes
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 313.8 GBs7.3 hours2.9 hours1.4 hours35 minutes
World of Warcraft15 GBs7.9 hours3.1 hours1.5 hours38 minutes


Even with a connection of 50 Mbps, the download times for core games are time consuming and the reason why many are still bought and sold on physical compact disks from game retail outlets. Casual games, however, are much smaller by comparison and specifically designed to be downloaded over the Internet on mobile devices. For example, the new high definition version of the popular casual game Angry Birds for the iPad is only 12.3 MBs and takes 23 seconds to download with a four Mbps connection (Workman, 2010).

The bandwidth required for a user playing a game through a console, like PlayStation 3, or through a PC online does not normally need a connection in excess of one Mbps. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, one of the latest and highest image resolution games, only requires about 50–75 kbps (Xbox Forums, 2011). Many games now use hosting to create a mini–user network that alleviates the stress on ISPs’ and users’ network connections. Instead of multiple users accessing the network at once, a single user “hosts” them on his network and provides a single connection to the larger game network. The hosting user requires a connection capable of sustaining speeds around 300–750 kbps [11].

Interactive games can last multiple hours, and a more accurate assessment of how gaming affects a user’s network requires thinking of data rates in terms of hours instead of seconds. In these terms, the user (based on Table 4) is consuming about 270 MBs per hour, with the conclusion of each gaming session experiencing a spike of about six MBs, as the games statistics are uploaded to central servers. Online gaming does not require much from a single user’s connection but places a huge strain on local networks that can possibly affect other users’ connections in the neighborhood.

Multi–point video conferencing. Multi–point video conferencing refers to the sending and receiving of video and audio content from different locations simultaneously. This is different from end–to–end point single user video conferencing where there are only two end users communicating. For example, six different business partners in six different cities utilizing video conferencing is multi–point while one group of business partners utilizing video conferencing with another group of business partners in two separate cities is end–to–end point.

Much like online games, multi–point video conferencing applications attempt to limit the amount of bandwidth required through the use of techniques similar to hosting that require specialized network equipment. Examples of these include multi–point control unit (MCU) and multicasting (Akkuş, et al., 2011). However, bandwidth use mainly depends on how many different users are participating simultaneously, the resolution quality of the video feed, and the ability of end users’ connections to upload the video feed. Upload speed is the data rate at which a user can send or upload data from his PC to the network, and ISPs tend to favor higher download speeds at the expense of upload speeds. Multi–point videoconferencing typically requires a connection capable of supporting 300–500 kbps download speed and upload speed (i.e., symmetrical) (, 2005;, 2009).


Application of information technologies to the healthcare field has been slow and relatively haphazard compared to other major industries (American Telemedicine Association, 2006; Zanaboni and Lettieri, 2011). The size, complexity, and number of stakeholders involved in the healthcare industry make it difficult to develop content and delivery standards for data (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). Telehealth is a general term used broadly to describe the use of any information technologies for healthcare, such as videoconferencing (Ackerman, et al., 2010). Telemedicine is normally associated with the use of technology to provide clinical services to patients (Hein, 2009).

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 amended the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the main law regulating health information technology, to require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop standards, implementation specifications, and certification criteria for health information technologies to achieve wider use of technology in the health care industry, such as through health information exchanges (HIEs) (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). To illustrate the speed requirements needed for an HIE, Table 5 provides some examples of approximate download times to complete the transmission of different radiological images at different network speeds.


Table 5: File size and download times for radiological images at different connection speeds [12].
File type and sizeNetwork download speed
TypeSize4 Mbps10 Mbps20 Mbps50 Mbps
Digital chest film20 MBs38 seconds15 seconds7.6 seconds3 seconds
Mammography160 MBs5 minutes2 minutes1 minute24.4 seconds
MRI study200 MBs6.3 minutes2.5 minutes1.2 minutes30.5 seconds
Echocardiogram study4 GBs2.1 hours50.8 minutes25.4 minutes10.1 minutes


A connection running at the FCC minimum broadband speed of four Mbps would take over half a minute to download the smallest file (digital chest film) and over two hours for the largest (echocardiogram study). When taking into consideration the standards outlined by HHS, any file transmission likely includes other files on the patient’s medical history, slowing the download time further. Larger and more complex EHRs, like the echocardiogram study, require a connection running at a minimum of 50 Mbps, and, even with that speed, the file would take 10 minutes to download completely. None of this takes into account the time it would take doctors’ offices and hospitals to first upload a patient’s file into the HIE, and uploading tends to require even more bandwidth for transmission than downloading.

This type of HIE involves different health organizations sharing records, thereby enabling a higher quality of service. The application of broadband within the telehealth context, such as HIEs, involves coordination of care among physicians to help eliminate possible misdiagnoses, and enable better medication management and chronic disease management. This HIE approach requires broadband only at the healthcare organization, and not at the patient’s home. The wider application of broadband in telemedicine enables greater monitoring of patients, increased influence on patient behavior, and more information sharing between patients and healthcare professionals about symptoms, without requiring visits to hospitals or clinics. This requires an extremely reliable broadband connection at the healthcare organization and the patient’s home (Fjeldsoe, et al., 2009).

Classroom applications and distance learning

Much like in the healthcare industry, the use of technology in education is an expansive field with a diverse set of stakeholders and disagreement over the best way to incorporate technology. For example, the state of Florida recently passed legislation requiring every school district in the state to adopt electronic textbooks by 2015, but the legislation includes no funding or guidelines for how this is to be accomplished (Rockwell, 2011). Electronic textbooks are but one of many education technology applications that are used to (1) augment traditional teaching methods in the classroom; or, (2) facilitate distance learning platforms, such as synchronous interactive online instruction, where the learning environment is created exclusively online.

There is some overlap between the two education technology application categories as some classroom applications are accessible only online. A notable and widespread example is Second Life, which has many general applications outside education. However, the majority traditionally are used in classroom settings and downloaded onto computer workstations (Wagner and Ip, 2009; Webb, 2012). As the focus of education shifts from face–to–face or online lecture–based methods to interactive methods better suited to the modern, technology–driven society, synchronous interactive online instruction will increase in importance and use. This, in turn, will place greater strain on broadband networks and require users to upgrade their connection speeds to participate fully in the educational experience.

Serious scholarly investigation into pedagogical ramifications of synchronous interactive online instruction and the effects of a poor Internet connection on a student’s learning ability are still in a nascent stage (Ward, et al., 2010). Studies typically focus on the online platform itself and not on the effect of poor connectivity. Early studies on network latency show a relationship between subject comprehension and connection speed, however these studies fail to take into account possible critical factors such as a student’s digital literacy skills and the usability of the interface (Bush, et al., 2008).

Similar to the gaming industry and other software developers, online learning platforms that provide synchronous interactive online instruction, such as ElluminateLive, go to great lengths to limit the amount of bandwidth needed for their applications (Elluminate, n.d.). Elluminate’s proprietary collaborative communication framework (CCF) is designed to allow users the option of configuring the application to better suit their connection speeds. Table 6 is adapted from advertised data requirements for required activities in Elluminate’s synchronous interactive online instruction learning platform.

As is the case with online gaming and video conferencing, synchronous interactive online instruction alone does not take up a considerable amount of bandwidth on a transaction–by–transaction basis. However, a two–three hour long session uses a substantial amount of bandwidth. The activity types requiring the greatest amount of bandwidth, transferring and sharing PowerPoint presentations and application sharing, vary by the size and complexity of the files. A PowerPoint presentation can easily vary from 10 to 29 MBs, or more, depending on the number and size of images or animations included, placing greater strain on the connection and limiting a student’s or teacher’s ability to visit other sites or send other files simultaneously. Also, even a 10 second delay from downloading a 5.1 MB PowerPoint file over a four Mbps connection can bar one student from participating as quickly as other students who have faster connections, hampering that student’s ability to keep up with the class.


Table 6: Elluminate activity times at different network speeds [13].
Activity type and file sizeNetwork download speed
Activity typeFile size4 Mbps10 Mbps20 Mbps50 Mbps
Sending and receiving audio from participant to instructor529.9 KBs1 second0.4 second0.2 second0.08 second
Using audio while typing or drawing on the Whiteboard712.7 KBs1.4 seconds0.5 second0.27 second0.1 second
Using audio while application sharing with Google Earth2.4 MBs4.5 seconds1.8 seconds0.9 second0.4 second
Transferring of a 5.1 Mb size PowerPoint file5.1 MBs9.7 seconds3.8 seconds1.9 seconds0.7 second



E–government is a term broadly used to describe online services or information provided by any government agency (Evans and Yen, 2006). The majority of e–government services typically involve downloading or uploading forms, permits, licenses, or other types of documents, as well as other account management services. Examples include renewing a driver’s license or paying a utility bill online. Most studies examine the effectiveness of e–government services based on user perceptions of the service in comparison to user perceptions of e–commerce services. Connection speed is normally included among the relevant variables (Steyaert, 2004; Morgeson and Mithas, 2009).

The differences in bandwidth required for e–government services reflect the different service roles for the government agencies and departments. Most e–government services, such as filing taxes, purchasing permits, or checking on criminal cases, do not involve large amounts of data transfer. Connection speeds become an issue for these services only in the case of institutions, like public libraries or workforce boards that have multiple users attempting to transfer files on the same network simultaneously (Bishop, et al., 2011). These applications would be classified into the basic or mid–range level, although specific times it takes to accomplish different e–government tasks at different connection speeds are not available. The most widely utilized advanced applications for e–government services are geographic information systems (GIS). GIS utilize multiple layers of high–resolution images and graphics and require an abundant amount of data storage for the network and a connection with a speed of at least 10 Mbps to avoid significant latency while using the application (Akamai, 2011).

Emergency management operations

Similar to the healthcare and education industry, policy experts spent much of the 2000s arguing how information technology can improve emergency management and help diminish the risk of natural and man–made disasters (Underwood, 2010). Also similar to healthcare and education, these efforts met with varying degrees of success. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 provided a catalyst for an intense investigation into how to use information technology to better coordinate emergency management operations and first responders. This discussion sporadically centers on questions about bandwidth requirements for various emergency management software and emergency operations centers (EOCs); however, little serious scholarly research focuses on the bandwidth requirements of EOCs.

In many ways, typical EOCs today operate in much the same manner as they did 30 years ago, primarily receiving information from human observers through phone calls or radio transmissions (Militello, et al., 2007). A simple task such as accessing text messages or e–mail alerts sent to 911 is not uniformly applied in EOCs throughout the country (Svensson, 2009). In the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, there was a renewed focus on the development of mobile command centers (MCCs) equipped with wireless broadband connections to provide both real time support in the field and an alternative command center should the brick and mortar building be destroyed (Business Wire, 2011).

There is, however, a significant amount of skepticism from the emergency management community concerning the true feasibility of using information technologies that rely heavily on Internet connections as the growing consensus is that a multitude of communication networks better safeguard against one system being disabled (Underwood, 2010). This does not mean that broadband–enabled applications are not useful for emergency managers though. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh developed a decision support system called JIISIS (Java enabled Interactive, Intelligent, Spatial Information System) to help coordinate responses to flooding in the Pittsburgh metro region. JIISIS combines information from 911 calls, local action plans, and GIS maps to build an assessment model of the ability for local emergency managers to respond to flooding in the area (Comfort, et al., 2009).

Running multiple applications simultaneously

The previous sections discuss the speeds necessary to use individual applications, and many of these applications already require broadband connections to operate efficiently and effectively. When a user is employing multiple applications at the same time, even if those applications are not bandwidth–intensive on their own, they can really slow a network when used in combination. This can be more pronounced if a network supports multiple users, who can be using multiple applications simultaneously, slowing the network further. Multiple, simultaneous use of applications has been shown to negatively impact network performance, download and upload speeds, and user satisfaction with the connection (Chetty, et al., 2010). All of this suggests a need for higher–speed connections to support the growing use of simultaneous applications.



Economic development and broadband applications

One of the major selling points of broadband is its potential for enhancing economic development in traditionally underserved areas. Studies into whether or not increased broadband availability actually promotes economic development produce mixed results (Kolko, 2010a; Lehr, 2012). This is in part due to the problems in measuring the economic impact of the Internet. However, there are a number of different advantages businesses can experience from broadband connections.

The concepts of social networking sites are being translated into the business world. Social business enables greater use of collaboration and knowledge management tools (Deloitte, 2012). In addition to social computing tools that enable greater communication among staff and customers, there are sentiment analysis tools that monitor mentions of the business on social media sites, digital content, and digital identities. These new forms of customer assessment contribute to the problems of ‘big data,’ a term that normally describes the immense amount of data a company collects that can become unmanageable. The traditional problem with big data is the inability to analyze it in a meaningful way to inform decision–making (Deloitte, 2012). New database management tools, such as NoSQL and MapReduce, enable greater use of big data through integrated, unstructured datasets and distributing computation of large datasets to different processing nodes. MapReduce, in particular, requires high bandwidth to utilize different processing nodes throughout a company’s system (Kang and Bader, 2010). The ability to collect and analyze different types of data is a valuable asset for any company. Likewise, the inability of a company to collect and analyze large datasets due to insufficient broadband may result in relocation of company assets or outright failure.

Cloud computing also is gaining popularity as a tool for collaboration in business. The cloud enables different end users to share an application or document. A simple example of cloud computing is Google Documents. Multiple users can edit one document simultaneously and the document itself is saved on network servers, not the users’ computers. However, the implications of cloud computing go far beyond merely sharing applications; cloud computing means that a business no longer needs to purchase computers or network equipment in a traditional sense. All a business really needs is a simple client device and a few fast network switches. Central processing units, servers, application software, and data storage can be outsourced to the cloud (Harvard Research Group, n.d.). Of course, this means also that the business becomes completely dependent on its broadband connection and that any data the business collects or uses must pass through the connection at some point, thereby increasing the amount of traffic on the connection.

The amount of data a commercial enterprise can generate is almost inconceivable. Walmart’s transaction databases alone are reportedly 2.5 petabytes (Bettino, 2012). To put that in perspective, it would take about 604 years to download that much data over a four Mbps connection. The ability to analyze and interpret big data and the potential cost savings of utilizing cloud computing are two large reasons that availability of broadband is tied to economic development. The future broadband applications covered in the next section only will add to the amount of data being transmitted over broadband Internet and the need to share that data quickly.

At this point, having assessed the frequency of the various categories before and after the election, we can identify the strategy used in the blogs before and after the election. Here are two examples of the posts in the data associated with the competition strategy and the creativity strategy.



Future applications

Bandwidth–heavy applications in the near future, much like those available today, will involve transferring high–resolution images and videos to multiple users. Application ideas from the previously mentioned, ongoing project sponsored by Google confirm this trend. One application utilizes live streaming video of government workers’ daily activities to increase transparency of local governments. Another proposes remote–controlled housekeeping robots that enable people to clean their living rooms while they are at work (Google Moderator, n.d.). This type of application relies on the concept of pervasive computing or “the Internet of Things,” a term first coined by Mark Weiser (Mattern and Floerkemeier, 2010; Obaidat and Woungang, 2011). Pervasive computing refers to the introduction of many embedded and mobile devices that are interconnected to provide improved quality of life through computing technologies. Pervasive computing can relate to any of the application areas described above with particular impact on the future of healthcare and education.

The development of wearable sensors within clothing can provide abundant physiological data to help physicians more accurately diagnose and treat chronic diseases. From monitoring general vital signals to motion analysis for stroke rehabilitation and treating Parkinson’s disease, these wearable sensors are referred to as health body area networks (HBANs) (Delmastro and Conti, 2011). Developers of HBANs seek to limit power and bandwidth consumption of sensors for greater comfort and acceptability. If a user were required to recharge his shirt or other clothing enabled with HBAN technologies every hour or so, for example, then the practicality of using the HBAN on a regular basis as intended would be limited.

The power and bandwidth usage are dependent on the type of data collected, the topology of the network over which the data are transmitted, and the actual hardware employed. Bluetooth technology, for example, is utilized for short distance connection from sensors woven into clothing to personal mobile devices such as smartphones that then transmit the gathered data to central health information data servers for analysis. Bluetooth operates at a maximum speed of one Mbps and represents the largest amount of bandwidth consumption developers realistically want from an HBAN (Chevrollier and Golmie, 2005). Bandwidth usage of a single megabyte per second might on the surface not appear too demanding, but this is an example of one sensor’s requirement. Full implementation of pervasive computing would require numerous other sensor systems to be working at the same time, all on the same connection.

Pervasive computing technologies also have potential for wide application to education. The use of mobile devices to enhance and personalize learning outside of the classroom is a major focus as developers attempt to add context awareness and location awareness to education applications (Yen, et al., 2011). Personalized knowledge awareness map (PERKAM) utilizes radio frequency identification (RFID) [14] tags to assist students with problem solving and enable greater sharing of experiences and knowledge (El–Bishouty, et al., 2007). Ubiquitous personal study (UPS) combines pervasive computing technologies with Web 2.0 technologies to aid students with information retrieval, management, and organization basically providing a customizable learning environment outside the confines of the classroom or a student’s home computer (Chen, et al., 2008).

The fundamental requirement for pervasive computing is ample bandwidth for connecting multiple devices simultaneously. Numerous devices communicating with each other and central servers utilizing the Internet requires an abundant supply of bandwidth to ensure the network is robust enough to handle various levels of concurrent traffic. Without ubiquitous broadband, the applications described will not be feasible.



Challenges to developing future applications

There are a number of significant challenges for developing future broadband applications in addition to the lack of broadband availability and adoption. These are largely problems of global network architecture and design, but they are also problems focused in low–income urban and rural areas where residents are unfamiliar with technology and do not necessarily see its relevance to their daily lives. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all challenges but a beginning point for further discussion. Significant challenges to developing broadband applications include:

  • Limited access to capital: A major goal for projects like Google’s and Chattanooga’s is to match investors with entrepreneurs. While initial responses to both projects are strong, it is unknown whether the real impact of either of these projects will be in actually developing applications for use. In fact, investors could view any failures from these projects as reasons not to invest in broadband application development.
  • ISP network limitations: ISPs are not necessarily supportive of efforts to develop applications that use more bandwidth. Applications that utilize large amounts of bandwidth place great strain on networks. ISPs already expend significant resources to alleviate network bottlenecks and are reluctant to use more resources on developing robust broadband networks for users in currently underserved areas without seeing the likelihood of future profits.
  • Technical engineering: Designing and implementing sophisticated, bandwidth–heavy applications requires new network architectures and the development of appropriate protocols. For example, ensuring scalability of some applications for use on mobile devices depends on developing protocols that effectively and efficiently prioritize bandwidth usage among multiple users.
  • Social resistance: Technology adoption in general is often met with resistance for various reasons. Professionals, such as teachers and doctors, do not always see a benefit in adopting new methods or practices to replace tested methods and practices. End users do not necessarily see the personal relevance of broadband applications without experiencing those benefits firsthand.

While there are certainly many organizations and institutions dedicated to developing applications that justify connection upgrades from current services, the challenges listed present significant issues for computer and network engineers, as well as software developers, retailers, and ISPs. This list does not include a range of challenges to individual residents wishing to adopt broadband as that is outside the scope of this paper.



Understanding and meeting broadband needs

The successful deployment and adoption of broadband networks depends on the creation, adoption, and use of applications that improve workflows and outputs for individuals, institutions, and businesses and justify increasing connection speeds beyond current levels. File sizes are increasing as the amount of data being collected and analyzed grows. Developing applications that interpret and utilize big data means that users require big broadband to transfer and share that data quickly among user groups. The Information Institute’s needs assessments for the North Florida Broadband Authority and Florida Rural Broadband Alliance showed a clear need for increased community awareness for the uses of broadband (Mandel, et al., 2012). All of the applications mentioned above are possible examples for raising awareness of the potential positive effect of broadband on local communities. Community awareness is an area where public libraries are uniquely situated to provide a new, highly valuable service role (Alemanne, et al., 2011).

The applications mentioned above can be categorized based on their required network connection speeds into basic, mid–range, and advanced levels. Current broadband applications that utilize some high resolution image and/or video data transferring already are pushing the limits of broadband connections that are at the minimum level prescribed by the FCC (four Mbps downstream and one Mbps upstream). Future trends indicate that growing use of miniaturized sensors and smart devices will lead to applications tailored to individual consumers’ environments and preferences that rely on always–on, higher speed broadband connections.

However, significant barriers present critical issues to address before consumer adoption of broadband applications is a reality. One of the greatest barriers is the difficultly in identifying if development of bandwidth–intensive applications will lead to more widespread adoption of broadband and higher–speed broadband (i.e., faster than four Mbps downstream) and are worth investment of time and resources. What seems likely is that the increasing, simultaneous use of multiple devices each requiring small amounts of bandwidth may add up to consumers demanding higher bandwidth connections. However, without easy to use and practical applications to drive demand by consumers, deployment of broadband infrastructure alone is unlikely to result in increased adoption and subscribership. End of article


About the authors

Jeff D. Saunders (M.S.LIS, Florida State University) holds a Bachelor’s of Science in History from Winthrop University. As a master’s student at Florida State University his research focused on libraries and information organizations in rural and small areas. He also has presented research on the history of libraries in the American South and American Football fandom.

Charles R. McClure (Ph.D., Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey; M.L.S., University of Oklahoma; M.A., Oklahoma State University) is Francis Eppes Professor of Information Studies and Director, Florida State University, Information Institute ( He has published extensively on topics related to planning and evaluation of library services, information policy, and digital libraries. His most recent co–authored books are Public libraries and Internet service roles; Measuring and maximizing Internet services (American Library Association, 2009) and Public libraries and the Internet: Roles, perspectives, and implications (Libraries Unlimited, 2011).

Lauren H. Mandel (Ph.D., Florida State University; M.S. in LIS, Simmons College) is an assistant professor at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. She previously worked as the Research Coordinator at the Information Institute ( Her research interests include public library facility design, wayfinding, and geographic information studies. Recent co–authored publications include “Assessing Florida public library broadband for e–government and emergency/disaster management services” in Public libraries and the Internet: Roles, perspectives, and implications (Libraries Unlimited, 2011) and “Utilizing geographic information systems (GIS) in library research” (Library Hi Tech, 2010).



1. U.S. Federal Communications Commission, 2010, p. 15.

2. For more information on NFBA and the Information Institute’s project visit

3. For more information on FRBA and the Information Institute’s project visit

4. Application levels developed from similar tables developed in Columbia Telecommunications Corporation (2010).

5. An end–to–end connection is where the application functions at the end point of a communication system instead of through intermediaries such as servers. For example, the video conferencing application runs off of the individual users’ personal computers and not a network server. See Moors (2002).

6. This application is still end–to–end but includes multiple end users in different locations.

7. Table developed from similar tables in Columbia Telecommunications Corporation (2010).

8. Speeds calculated with Calctool (Andy and Steve Shipway, 2008).

9. Table developed from example file sizes provided by Apple (2012).

10. Table developed from file sizes at CNET Forums (2007), FileForums (2003), and FileFront, Inc. (2010; 2011).

11. User game hosting avoid having large numbers of users max out bandwidth for entire gaming networks, such as Microsoft’s Xbox live, by creating many different peer–to–peer networks.

12. Table developed from file sizes in American Telemedicine Association (2006).

13. Table developed from Elluminate (n.d.).

14. RFID (radio frequency identification) tags are essentially intelligent bar codes that mobile devices scan and use to determine location and other information.



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Editorial history

Received 16 May 2012; accepted 11 October 2012.

Copyright © 2012, First Monday.
Copyright © 2012, Jeff D. Saunders, Charles R. McClure, and Lauren H. Mandel.

Broadband applications: Categories, requirements, and future frameworks
by Jeff D. Saunders, Charles R. McClure, and Lauren H. Mandel
First Monday, Volume 17, Number 11 - 5 November 2012

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