It is indisputable that we are in the midst of exponential bandwidth growth. By by 2021, public and private Internet traffic will grow to about 2 GB per user per day, with 58% of the world’s population or 4.6 billion people being users . This is 3X growth from 2016. So seeing myself as a bit of a futurist, I’d like to ask the questions: how did we get here, and how much further will we grow?
How we got here is fairly simple. It is on the back of two technologies that dramatically reduced the cost of communications. These are: packet networks that vastly simplify how networks are engineered, by letting each packet of voice, video, or data information carry their own address of where they need to go, and optical networks that perform the heavy lifting of transporting unlimited boatloads of information across cities, continents and oceans, virtually for zero cost per bit.
These technologies “primed the pump!” They gave rise to cloud computing that has turned upside down where we process and store information, video streaming which is putting an end to conventional television networks, online shopping which is emptying out brick and mortar malls, and other business and societal changing applications.
But this is just the start.
Multiple other technologies are beginning to emerge that will find whole new ways to leverage communications. These include robotics, like drones or autonomous machines made for industry or defense, intelligent end-devices from heart monitors to wind sensors, strain gauges, and smart fridges, which will make up the Internet of Things, ubiquitous cameras with access to image recognition, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), and of course Machine Learning which will guide a new generation of autonomous machines and processes. And finally, coming back to telecom technologies, 5G will make wireless communications as powerful as the tethered variety.
These will continue to evolve existing and give rise to a new generation of game changing business and societal applications. For starters it will transform personal transportation. As we are freed up from driving autonomous cars, these cars will now become media hubs. Health care will be transformed as we can be continually monitored, with ongoing feedback on how to improve our well-being or deal with conditions. Our energy systems will be overhauled with each of us not only being consumers but also providers to the grid.
We will rely more on intelligent machines, for personal, industrial and military purposes, for better or for worse. And thinking along those same lines of morally questionable changes, AR and VR technologies along with a new generation of personal robotics will change how we interact with each other, let us say, on a more intimate basis. (Currently 10%-30% of Internet traffic is porn, depending on whose statistics you believe.)
In short, we will create a loop of positive feedback where new technologies combined with already abundant bandwidth, will give rise to more and more applications that will continue to drive the need for more bandwidth.
So when will we max out? One way to look at this is through the window of AR/VR technologies. If you look at most of our communication interactions today, an acceptable average rate is about 100 Kbps. However, acceptable rates for AR/VR applications are on the order of 100 Mbps. So back of the envelope, it is quite easy to see us only at the beginning of a bandwidth explosion where we can see another three orders of magnitude growth in front of us.
Not a bad time to be in the networking business. To learn more about some of the changes in telecoms land, download our white paper.
Jonathan Homa, is Senior Director Portfolio Marketing at ECI for the last few years. Jonathan enjoys French beer in Nice and loves to discuss the 3 hottest topics in networking today: softwarization, virtualization and cloudification.