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Can the Internet cope with the world’s growing demands?

David Eden, future technologist and product innovator, Tata Communications | Nov. 10, 2016
Will the Internet will be able to cope under the extra pressure of data-hungry technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), driverless cars and virtual reality (VR)?

The biggest bandwidth hog: video

The pressure felt by the world's networks is not just about the volume of connections, but also about bandwidth. In 2020, video will represent more than 80% of all Internet traffic, with every second nearly 1 million minutes of video content crossing the Internet.

With more and more content being developed by the sports, TV and film industries for Oculus Rift, Google Glass, Samsung Gear and other VR headsets, we're set to see a 60-fold increase in VR traffic between now and 2020. One reason for this huge growth is that VR requires 5 times more bandwidth than HDTV to create an immersive user experience. Yet, while the companies that own and operate the infrastructure behind the Internet have the bandwidth to support VR, home broadband often does not, leading to a jittery viewing experience. That is why we need to see investments in very low-latency, high-throughput last-mile networks to cope with the demands of VR. Only then can the industry ensure the brilliant, immersive VR user experience that consumers expect.  

Is the future wireless?

IoT, VR and autonomous vehicles are causing networks to increase in complexity, with wireless technologies layered on top of wired infrastructures. The convenient, seemingly ubiquitous nature of Wi-Fi and 4G - and soon 5G - means that in the eyes of many, the future is wireless.

Despite news headlines suggesting otherwise, it remains to be seen if 5G will materialise as quickly initially thought because of the major investments needed by mobile operators to roll out 5G networks, and subscribers' reluctance to pay a premium for ultrafast 5G connectivity. Nevertheless, whether Wi-Fi or 5G, wireless technologies will undoubtedly play a key role in delivering the next-generation Internet. Yet in my view, wired connections remain a necessary long-term investment. Even by 2020 - when there will be more than 4 billion Internet users around the world - wired fibre optic networks will be capable of carrying far more data and bandwidth than wireless alternatives.

AI at the heart of the world's Internet 

It's been said that everything invented in the last 150 years will be reinvented using artificial intelligence (AI) - so the way we shop, the way we manufacture goods, the way we travel, and perhaps even the way we care for the elderly. In the same vein, AI will play a central role in helping the Internet cope with future bandwidth demands.

Networks are getting hugely complex due to their global and multi-layered nature, and designing a network is one of the most incredibly complex feats of engineering known to man. AI will revolutionise network design: machine learning will enable us to find ways of building faster and more efficient networks, and AI will maintain the network - analysing traffic, breaking up cyber-attacks and self-improving - as demands on the network evolve. By using AI, we will be able to predict Internet traffic flows around major global sports events such as the Football World Cup or the Olympics, and reroute traffic more effectively as needed.

 

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