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The evolution of the Internet

September 1, 2014

John Hayduk   

Blog Contributor

Evolution is a funny thing. All organic creatures evolve in response to changes in their environment. And then in turn, the environment changes in response to new behaviours from the organisms that inhabit it. The same dynamic applies to the Internet and the people who use it. Innovation begets behavioural change. Behavioural change inspires new innovation.

But what happens when pace of environmental change begins to outpace human change? What happens when the Internet experiences such massive new strains on it from an exponential increase in the data, applications and interactions that have grown so dependent on it? And what must the industry do to prepare the network for this shift and ensure people can continue to take advantage of emerging technological capabilities?

The changes in our digital environment are stunning. According to the research firm Telegeography, global Internet capacity has reached 77 Tbps, more than doubling between 2010 and 2012. A lot of this growth is driven by the popularity of social media and high-bandwidth apps such as video.

In her latest Internet Trends presentation, the tech guru Mary Meeker highlighted that there are now more than 1.1 billion active Facebook users globally who upload 350 million photos daily, and 68% of those users log on regularly on their mobile. Meeker also noted that in the second quarter of 2012, the proportion of Chinese Internet users accessing the web via their mobile device surpassed those using a PC for the first time.

In tandem with the global growth of mobile and social apps, we are starting to see the emergence of so-called wearable tech. With Cisco predicting that there will be more than 50 billion connected devices in the world by 2020, how can we ensure that the global connectivity infrastructure can cope under this strain?

And this doesn’t even take into consideration what happens when people start using the Internet in transformative new ways, as is happening with the Internet of Things (IoT), which is finally beginning to manifest. Far-reaching changes in human behavior and people’s use of technology are requiring even more access to bandwidth heavy activities such as two-way video, connectivity for wearable computers, the advent of the personal drone device, and even more promising uses for IoT.

These are exciting digital experiences for all of us, but they are also putting our network infrastructures under strain.  What has been discussed less is the increased unpredictability in network needs. This is not simply a question of network capacity, but of how we connect with our technologies as a species.

Stay tuned for John’s next post, where he will further examine the impact of IoT and other next-generation demands on the network, and how to safeguard the Internet as a shared global utility.  The post will explore questions such as: how will the evolution of the Internet impact the evolution of human behaviour? And how do we get human beings to deal with faster rates of change than we’re used to? In the meantime, share your views in the comments below.