Why Streaming & the Old Fashioned Telephone Party Line Are A Lot Alike

Remember the telephone party line? You don’t?! Ouch!

You see kids, it was called a party line because we all shared a single phone line that ran in and out of the neighborhood. Each home had a different phone number so we could be reached separately, but when anyone called out they had to wait until the line was cleared before making a call. Similarly, if someone was calling a home on our party line, they had to wait until the line was clear to make the connection.

Kind of awkward, right?

So why would anyone voluntarily share a phone line with their neighbors, you ask? The cost. It was more economical to share a single line. And with five kids, my dad was all about the economics. It was a smart move for him.

Not so much for our neighbors. Remember, five kids lived in our rambling green ranch. As you can guess, we were on the telephone, A LOT. And – much to the irritation of our neighbors – we monopolized the line from time to time, especially during the hours of three to six pm. (Sorry, Mrs. Cooksey)

There’s a trend I’m seeing in the industry – a trend to label every transport of video and audio files via the Internet as “streaming”. Kind of like using the brand name “Kleenex” for all tissues, or – like we do in the South – refer to all soft drinks as “coke”. Like, “What kind of coke would you like?” See what I mean?

Yet, streaming is a particular method of getting audio and video files from Point A to Points B, C, D and on. Never, ever should it be confused with dedicated band width or – I shudder at the thought – satellite bandwidth. Let me explain.

Think about the telephone party line – that’s basically how real streaming works. And for our discussion, that’s what I’m focusing on – a business application that requires a streaming server on site.

Streaming video and audio files is an economical way to get information from point to multi-point via the Internet, but it has it’s limitations that you need to understand.

It’s a shared resource, meaning there is never enough bandwidth for all customers to effectively stream their files SIMULTANEOUSLY – the limited bandwidth has to cover everyone. So the streaming provider is, in essence, gambling that not everyone will need to access bandwidth at the same time.

In contrast, a dedicated bandwidth or line is an Internet connection dedicated to a specific application. I’m not saying these services are provided a single, seamless end-to-end solution, but they do provide guarantees of constant bandwidth availability and near-constant latency – stuff that can’t be guaranteed with streaming.

Of course, you’ll pay more for dedicated bandwidth, but with additional cost comes the security of knowing your files are getting from point to multi-point.

Dedicated bandwidth is an improvement over streaming, as much the same way as the dedicated telephone line was an improvement for our neighbors over sharing with the five kids in the rambling green ranch. But when comparing cost, reliability and availability between streaming, dedicated bandwidth and satellite bandwidth, there are multiple components to evaluate.

You know the old adage, “You get what you pay for.”” Similarly, you need to understand what you’re asking for to get the answers needed to produce an effective risk assessment of each application.

Just like a Coke is not a Pepsi, streaming refers to a specific method of transporting audio and video files that has it’s own specific pros and cons. Got it?