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Taxed to its limits – The Internet as we know is going to change

Matthew Simon, technical solutions professional, Alcatel-Lucent | Jan. 30, 2015
With the Internet being pushed to its breaking point, we need to find and create new models to architect Internet infrastructure to anticipate future needs as the data traffic will only trend upwards, not downwards.

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.

Singapore was recently crowned the most connected city in the world with the highest smartphone penetration at 85% (an increase of a whooping of 13% from 2013), according to a recent TNS study commissioned by Google. Surprisingly, Singapore also boasts the highest number of connected devices per person, at 3.3 devices. It probably explains why even grannies have a smartphone now.

People may think the pervasive nature of connectivity is an exaggeration. But if you walk down Orchid Road, the busiest road in Singapore, take a look; I would say there is some truth in it. As a telecom consultant, I am amazed at how far the internet has come, and wonder how far we can push the internet's limits — speed, bandwidth and scale — every day.

The amalgamation of computing technology advancements and the ubiquitous use of internet connection has profoundly changed how we derive our information, news and entertainment. It is all at our fingertips today. Millions of people communicate instantaneously via online chat, e-mail and real-time video. Oftentimes, we play mobile apps, stream music and watch videos on different mobiles devices but all at the same time.

A Bell Labs' study indicates that data traffic on metropolitan access is set to increase 560% by 2017, driven by the fast-rising demand for ultra-broadband access, video, cloud computing and other high-bandwidth services. It in turn will cause enterprises, communications service providers and cloud-based companies to bring content closer to their customers to better manage quality of experience and gain operational efficiencies.

Are we reaching the internet's breaking point?
While these developments and statistics may surprise you, unbeknownst to many, the underlying Internet infrastructure that supports all these applications and services is being tested to its limits.

Firstly, very few, if any, bother about how Internet services are delivered to them. For the user, getting to a service such as Facebook or Twitter, watching a video on YouTube or posting a picture on Instagram, simply means reaching out for their device and start interacting with the apps.

Behind this very simple process are two concepts that push the network to its limits: bandwidth and scale.

Simply put bandwidth is the amount of data that can be transmitted over a fixed period of time. Typically measured in megabits per second and contrary to popular belief, it is a finite resource.

Which leads to the second point — scale. Many internet-based services have massive scale — with billions of people using them, and millions doing so at the same time. Often we are on a limited bandwidth and utilising that to support a large scale of usage. That's why we sometimes encounter the twitter fail whale and funny error messages such as this one from Tumblr.


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