I spent last Thursday afternoon in a fake home Verizon had thrown together in their offices near the World Trade Center. The point of the visit: to show off Verizon Fios’s new Fios Instant Internet service, which offers 750 Mbps (megabits per second) download-and-upload speeds for $150 a month, and available to 7 million homes and businesses in the NYC metro area, Philadelphia, and Richmond, Virginia. If 750 Mbps doesn’t mean that much to you, just know that it’s absurdly fast internet — fast enough to download nearly 94 megabytes per second. On a good connection, you could download your average Blu-ray movie in about a minute.
Inside Verizon’s ersatz apartment, four different TVs streamed movies and TV shows, two Xbox Ones ran games of Overwatch, a Wi-Fi-enabled doorbell kept watch outside, and a Canary system watched over the interior of the house. Plus, more smart-home gadgets were sprinkled around, including a couple of Google Homes and Philips Hue lightbulbs. I was able to check how many devices in total were connected to the network — they had over 50 devices up and running while I was there, all running through a single Verizon Fios router, and said during their stress tests they had put 103 devices on the network without a hitch. It was very impressive! I still left feeling a little baffled as to whom exactly this is for.
Of course, there are people out there who will read 750 Mbps download-and upload-speeds for $150 a month and sign up immediately — it’s much faster than any competing consumer service in the NYC metro area (and priced surprisingly reasonably). And Verizon Instant makes sense for a small business (all of New York Magazine runs on a connection not much faster than this, though it’s a business line set up quite differently than your average Fios connection).
But for anyone in their daily life, is 750 Mbps worth it for any reason other than to say you have stupidly fast internet? Especially considering that the vast majority of the rest of the internet is not set up to run that fast, including the other servers you’d be connecting to with your ultrafast connection? You’re basically going to be revving a muscle car all the way through the drive-through lane at Wendy’s. Perhaps if you lined your wall with 50 TVs all streaming 4K movies at the same time you could get close to maxing out your bandwidth, or ran a small server farm out of your apartment just for fun — otherwise, you’ve got a lot of extra bandwidth you’re not really using.
I can understand the urge to get as much bandwidth as possible. After years of limping along on a terrible and spotty 10 Mbps connection, I recently shelled out for a decently fast 150 Mbps download-and-upload connection. The first time I was able to download a 50 GB file in less than ten minutes was a pleasant change of pace from when I used to plan overnight download sessions in order to install a new game on my PS4. It’s also nice to be able to stream a television show on one television while playing a game online somewhere else in the house, while also maybe streaming audio to an Amazon Echo, though I’m not sure how often that really happens. Still, I really like having a lot of bandwidth! It feels comforting, like having a solid rainy-day savings account or getting to the airport a half-hour earlier than you need to. But I don’t really need it.
But Verizon thinks that’ll change. One, as the Verizon spokesperson walking me through the apartment pointed out, I don’t have kids — and once you have a couple of Minecraft addicts under your roof, your bandwidth demands could change. Or if I lived with a lot of roommates who all used a lot of bandwidth. Or if I worked from home and did something like video editing, where uploading and downloading large files was par for course. But where Verizon sees the real growth is in how many smart devices consumers are soon going to have in their homes. Per NPD Group, there were on average 7.8 connected devices in the home in 2016, up by 64 percent compared to 2015. (Of course, growing by 64 percent to an average of 7.8 devices is, perhaps, not quite as impressive as it may at first seem.) Analyst group Gartner says an affluent home could have more than 500 connected devices by the year 2022.
But that’s getting into some very fuzzy math — and some very fuzzy predictions. It’s tough to say how much bandwidth each of these devices will require. A TV streaming a 4K version of A Very Murray Christmas, or whatever, is going to require a lot more bandwidth than a Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat. But even assuming Gartner is correct, would an ultra-connected home in 2022 really require 750 Mbps?
Of course, there’s also a long history of asking “Why would you ever need a piece of tech that fast/large/small?” and being proven dead wrong. Maybe in five years, when 4K streaming is taken for granted and the average upper-middle-class home is filled with smart-home sensors and devices constantly pinging each other, 750 Mbps will seem perfectly in line with what people will need.
But for right now, Verizon is offering a tier of internet so above and beyond what’s needed that it doesn’t really make sense — and I’ll probably try to get my own 750 Mbps line put in my house by the end of the year.