For the purposes of this question, there are two ways to watch a video on a site like YouTube. One, you can watch the site in your browser. Two, you can download the video with an app like youtube_download. If you do the former, it takes twenty minutes to watch a twenty minute video in the browser (using network resources the whole time, I assume). If you do the latter, it takes a few seconds to download the video over the network (using more resources over less time?) and you watch offline.

Question: For each approach, what are the network resources that are used and can you describe the different network costs (i.e. not financial, which vary by region) that are involved in each approach. Which approach is more or less expensive in terms of network resources and why?

  • You basically get the same amount of data, just one is spread out over a longer time period. Think about rush hour traffic. If you have 1000 cars (data packets) all trying to use a road in an hour, compared to the same amount of cars using the road over several hours, what is the difference in cost to the road (network)? – Ron Maupin Aug 24 '16 at 20:02

It's a trade-off made by the provider;

Say that this potential server is connected to the Internet with a 100 Mbps link. Now, if you were to download the video, which is 100 seconds long, and each second is 1 Mb of video data, it would take 1 second to download the whole thing. But, during that time you either consume all the bandwidth available, or you can't download it with "maximum speed". Aka. you'll consume lots of bandwidth for a short period of time.

Now, if you on the other hand stream it, you can at the most watch 1 Mb of video every second. Therefore, the server only has to provide that amount of data, plus some extra for buffering, for you to be able to watch it live. Therefore, ignoring a lot of real world problems, say that you need 2 Mbps to get a reliable live stream, then 50 people can watch the same video at the same time with the same available resources.

Net result is the same, you get your video just as fast, but for the provider it's much more manageable to throttle connections so that the video buffers "fast enough" since you get a much smoother load on your network. YouTube and others probably do this on a quite grand scale so that they buffer fast enough for you to be content, but slow enough so that they can serve as many users simultaneously as possible.

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