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Only 21% of U.S homes have enough internet bandwidth to stream 4K ultra HD

by on September 28, 2015

Stephan Jukic – September 28, 2015

While 4K UHD TVs are definitely growing much more popular, the picture from the content access side of things is still looking pretty weak, at least for now.

According to recent findings from Akamai, not only do a minority of homes even have a 4K TV in their living rooms or dens, the overwhelming majority of all U.S homes also lack the internet connectivity necessary to stream 4K UHD content from principal sources like Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video.

What Akamai’s research shows is that only 21% of U.S homes get at least the minimal 15 Mbps necessary for 4K ultra HD streaming and this alone is before bandwidth caps, which could further block off 4K streaming to millions of homes. Furthermore, the 15 Mbps minimum is just that, a minimum, and until even more efficient 4K video compression methods are developed for the web, broadband speeds of closer to 20 Mbps are the more highly recommended minimum, in addition to the fact that these cannot be peak speeds but instead must be the lower end minimum that any home which wants access to online 4K video must consistently maintain.

While there is lots of talk being done in tech, media and communications delivery circles about the potential for easy to install gigabit internet proliferating across the U.S –with Google Fiber being one notable example of a technology giant actively trying to deliver this kind of ultra-broadband—major telecoms have to first deal with the simple fact that 79% of U.S households can’t even get the minimum internet connectivity necessary to watch “House of Cards” in 4K resolution through their Netflix subscriptions.

Programs like House of Cards in 4K, from Netflix, require at least 15 Mbps and more effectively 20 Mbps to stream clearly

Programs like House of Cards in 4K, from Netflix, require at least 15 Mbps and more effectively 20 Mbps to stream clearly

Akamai compiled these findings through its “State of the Internet” report for the second quarter of 2015 and while the above findings on 4K-capable connectivity look somewhat pessimistic, not all the news is bad.

For starters, the 21% figure still represents a 4% increase in 15Mbps+ connectivity access from what was the case one year ago in the second quarter of 2014, when just 17% of households could get 15 Mbps or more of internet bandwidth. Furthermore, while these levels of connectivity look bad, they’re not the case in many other countries. The U.S is well down in the 18th position globally for percentage of homes reached by internet speeds of 15 Mbps or higher. Thus, more internationally-minded 4K streaming service providers still have plenty of customer growth potential in more robustly connected overseas markets.

All of this aside, there isn’t all that much 4K content available via streaming to begin with. While considerable growth in entertainment options in ultra HD has indeed occurred during the last year, 4K UHD is still a long ways away from Full HD in terms of content market penetration.

Additionally, changes are expected for 2016, when the new DOCSIS 3.1 standard expected to arrive on the market could possibly cause ISP speeds to also scale upwards, at least for cable internet connection services. In the meantime, there is no doubt that the range of 4K ultra HD content available on the web will continue growing, at least incrementally.

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