The age of gigabit connectivity is dawning and will advance in coming years. The only question is how quickly it might become widespread. A gigabit connection can deliver 1,000 megabits of information per second (Mbps). Globally, cloud service provider Akamai reports that the average global connection speed in quarter one of 2014 was 3.9 Mbps, with South Korea reporting the highest average connection speed, 23.6 Mbps and the US at 10.5 Mbps.1
In some respects, gigabit connectivity is not a new development. The US scientific community has been using hyper-fast networks for several years, changing the pace of data sharing and enabling levels of collaboration in scientific disciplines that were unimaginable a generation ago.
Gigabit speeds for the “average Internet user” are just arriving in select areas of the world. In the US, Google ran a competition in 2010 for communities to pitch themselves for the construction of the first Google Fiber network running at 1 gigabit per second—Internet speeds 50-100 times faster than the majority of Americans now enjoy. Kansas City was chosen among 1,100 entrants and residents are now signing up for the service. The firm has announced plans to build a gigabit network in Austin, Texas, and perhaps 34 other communities. In response, AT&T has said it expects to begin building gigabit networks in up to 100 US cities.2 The cities of Chattanooga, Tennessee; Lafayette, Louisiana; and Bristol, Virginia, have super speedy networks, and pockets of gigabit connectivity are in use in parts of Las Vegas, Omaha, Santa Monica, and several Vermont communities.3 There are also other regional efforts: Falcon Broadband in Colorado Springs, Colorado; Brooklyn Fiber in New York; Monkey Brains in San Francisco; MINET Fiber in Oregon; Wicked Fiber in Lawrence, Kansas; and Sonic.net in California, among others.4 NewWave expects to launch gigabit connections in 2015 in Poplar Bluff, Missouri Monroe, Rayville, Delhi; and Tallulah, Louisiana, and Suddenlink Communications has launched Operation GigaSpeed.5
In 2014, Google and Verizon were among the innovators announcing that they are testing the capabilities for currently installed fiber networks to carry data even more efficiently—at 10 gigabits per second—to businesses that handle large amounts of Internet traffic.
To explore the possibilities of the next leap in connectivity we asked thousands of experts and Internet builders to share their thoughts about likely new Internet activities and applications that might emerge in the gigabit age. We call this a canvassing because it is not a representative, randomized survey. Its findings emerge from an “opt in” invitation to experts, many of whom play active roles in Internet evolution as technology builders, researchers, managers, policymakers, marketers, and analysts. We also invited comments from those who have made insightful predictions to our previous queries about the future of the Internet. (For more details, please see the section “About this Canvassing of Experts.”)
How could people benefit from a gigabit network? One expert in this study, David Weinberger, a senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, predicted, “There will be full, always-on, 360-degree environmental awareness, a semantic overlay on the real world, and full-presence massive open online courses. Plus Skype won’t break up nearly as much.”
There are experiments progressing in some developing countries to produce gigabit-or-better wireless networks that will surpass the reach and speed of wireless connectivity in the industrially developed world.6
There are disputes about just how quickly and how broadly the move toward gigabit networks will spread. In the US, some experts on telecommunications policy say a lack of competition is stopping firms from investing in the infrastructure improvements that would enable a more widespread rollout of higher speeds.7 Some telecommunications leaders say the current speeds are sufficient for what most Internet users expect to be able to do online.8
There is less contention over what expanded capabilities will mean when they evolve. Historically, every major advance in bandwidth has facilitated innovation that has brought new services and applications to digital life. In the Internet’s early days, slow modems facilitated email; faster dial-up modems helped websites become useable; early broadband rollout allowed for quicker sharing of relatively big files such as the MP3 music files that were shared on the first peer-to-peer services like Napster; later broadband advances allowed for streaming activities that have given rise to services like YouTube, Amazon Prime, and Netflix; and advances in wireless speeds have enabled everything from massive adoption of social networking sites to location-based sharing services on smartphones. The respondents to this canvassing foresee similar changes as gigabit connectivity emerges.
Overall, 1,464 expert respondents weighed in on the following question:
New killer apps in the gigabit age: Will there be new, distinctive, and uniquely compelling technology applications that capitalize upon significant increases in bandwidth in the US between now and 2025?
Please elaborate on your answer: If you answered “no,” explain why you think there will be incremental change, or hardly any change at all. If you answered “yes,” describe what the killer apps might be as gigabit connectivity becomes available. Explain what new tools and applications will excite people in the next decade and envision the kinds of personal connectivity and immersive media experiences that will seize the public imagination.
Some 86% of the respondents to this non-probability survey said “yes,” they believe major new applications will accompany a rise of bandwidth speeds in the US by 2025, and 14% of the respondents said “no.” There were a number of broad themes threaded through their answers.
Killer Apps in a Gigabit Age: Themes
- People’s basic interactions and their ability to ‘be together’ and collaborate will change in the age of vivid telepresence—enabling people to instantly ‘meet face-to-face’ in cyberspace with no travel necessary.
- Augmented reality will extend people’s sense and understanding of their real-life surroundings and virtual reality will make some spaces, such as gaming worlds and other simulated environments, even more compelling places to hang out.
- The connection between humans and technology will tighten as machines gather, assess, and display real-time personalized information in an ‘always-on’ environment. This integration will affect many activities—including thinking, the documentation of life events (‘life-logging’), and coordination of daily schedules.
- Specific economic and social sectors will be especially impacted; health/medicine and education were mentioned often.
- New digital divides may open as people gain opportunities on different timelines and with different tools.
- Who knows? ‘I have no idea due to rapid change.’ ‘The best Internet apps are yet to emerge.’ ‘If I knew, I wouldn’t tell you, I would invest in it!’
- Advances will be gradual for various reasons: Bandwidth is not the issue. The US will lag because a widespread gigabit network is not easily achieved.
Many of the respondents expanded the frame of the question and discussed advances that are generally tied to the Internet of Things—the spread of connected devices, artifacts, sensors, and wearables—and other technology trends.
Marti Hearst, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, wrote, “These ideas aren’t new, but they will finally work well enough if given high enough bandwidth. Entertainment: you play sports and music virtually, distributed, across the globe. Co-living: You have virtual Thanksgiving dinner with the other side of the family. Work: finally, we greatly reduce flying around for meetings because virtual conferencing feels real. Healthcare: remote assessment, treatment, and surgery. More generally, more interaction will be done with others remotely. For example, your golf lesson could be done with a coach remotely, in real time, while he or she watches your swing at the tee and has you make corrections and adjust your grip.”
A similarly expansive summary of possible effects came from Jason Hong, an associate professor in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. “Odds are high that there will be breakthroughs,” he replied. “My best guesses would be: a) far better telepresence, in terms of video quality, audio quality, robotic control, and time (for example: open all the time rather than just a short time for video conferencing); b) a few people starting to use life-logging technologies to capture everything in their lives (with some people choosing to share those); c) higher adoption of telesurgery and remote medical support; d) some new kind of entertainment, possibly including new kinds of social media; e) more sensor data being continuously captured and stored, including those embedded in the city (for bridges and buildings), cars, smart phones, portable home medical devices, and toys; f) better search for multimedia, especially videos; g) more cloud-based apps, offering far richer software-as-a-service than we can do today. Examples might include more thin-client netbooks with all of the backend stored in the cloud, or full apps that are currently desktop apps offered as a cloud service (think Adobe Creative Suite, games, or Microsoft Office fully in the cloud).”
Following is a selection of respondent answers that speak to each of the themes.
Theme 1) People’s basic interactions and their ability to ‘be together’ and collaborate will change in the age of vivid telepresence—enabling people to instantly ‘meet face-to-face’ in cyberspace with no travel necessary.
As the boundary between being “here” and being “there” shrinks, respondents predict that people will be able to experience faraway places, sounds, and smells without actually being there.
Joe Kochan, the chief operating officer for US Ignite, a company developing gigabit-ready digital experiences and applications responded, “Widely-available gigabit broadband connections will usher in the Internet of two-way, persistent, high-quality video to replace today’s Internet of images, text, and recorded video. Your interactions with doctors, educators, merchants, and others will consist not of emailed forms or pre-recorded messages, but instead of instantaneous, life-like video interaction that requires no setup or configuration.”
Bob Briscoe, chief researcher in networking and infrastructure for British Telecom, wrote, “Telepresence will be available in business environments. By 2025 it is unlikely to be realistic and natural, although sufficiently realistic to be usable. It will also be becoming available in personal and residential settings. It may become possible for an individual to project into more than one presence at once, given that young people have learned to cope with partial attention on multiple threads of interaction.”
Jim Hendler, a professor of Computer Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Semantic Web engineer, wrote, “I believe ‘telepresence’ will be a driving application in the workforce, and thus the ability to have multi-person meetings without travel will be enhanced significantly.”
Peter Janca, the managed services development lead at MCNC, the nonprofit regional network operator serving North Carolina, wrote, “Increased bandwidth will enable true ‘you-are-there’ feelings in human-to-human interactions—maybe a holographic representation of the other parties sitting in the room with me. This becomes a ‘killer app’ for human interaction, but bad news for the travel and transportation industry. One application of the above will be in education: We use video conferencing today, but there are still impediments to it being an equivalent to the physical in-class experience. Higher bandwidth, coupled with higher-horsepower computing, will make today’s virtual classroom work as if it were a real classroom.”
Alex Halavais, an associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at Arizona State University, predicted, “Yahoo aside, we’ll see increased use of telepresence in workspaces and in family life. I suspect this will include a lot of ‘always-on,’ very-high-resolution video. I imagine a lot of offices doing something akin to what Thomas Keller does for his restaurants in New York and Napa, and installing video walls in the hall. Much of this may be in game space.”
Kathryn Campbell, a partner with Primitive Spark, Inc., an interactive marketing firm based in Los Angeles, responded, “No question, bandwidth will play the same kind of transformational role in reshaping society that railroads and freeways played in our past. I am most excited about the potential for truly immersive entertainment and communications as bandwidth continues to explode. On the entertainment front, something like the Holodeck concept first shown in the old Star Trek series is actually within our grasp by 2025. Games, films, shopping for cars and vacations, and (of course) porn will all become immersive 3D experiences. So will the 2025 version of that primitive tool that we call Skype today. Catching up with my sister in Papua, New Guinea, will be almost like being there in a decade (or at least I earnestly hope so!).”
Theme 2) Augmented reality will extend people’s sense and understanding of their real-life surroundings and virtual reality will make some spaces, such as gaming worlds and other simulated environments, even more compelling places to hang out.
David P. Collier-Brown, a system programmer and author, predicted, “Avatars to go to meetings for me in Texas, rather than me flying down. Bus tours of Istanbul on Saturday afternoon from the comfort of my living room. Playing a game of football with my cousin in Ulan Bator from the gym downtown.”
David J. Wierz, a strategic analytics professional for OCI, commented, “Virtual reality becomes the reality. The current ‘fad’ emulates effects such as that with [the 2013 movie] ‘Her.’ More practical applications come in creating fully interactive, personalized touring as well as visitation with family and friends. There is further the means to engage in ‘live’ sports and ‘play’ the game with a team set in one location or composed across multiple geographies. I’ll also note the potential with medical care, personal engagement for care management, and the means to create a fully interactive ‘environment’ in the home or group area for individuals support health, wellness, mental participation, and care.”
Tim Bray, an active participant in the IETF and technology industry veteran, wrote, “I have particular hope for advances in locative augmented-reality applications, for art, entertainment, tourism, and other surprising things.”
Alison Alexander, a professor at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, wrote, “One killer app that could take off is a virtual reality environment. Forget reality, live in your selected world. Visit wherever and whenever. Also, this is not a killer app, but the global nature of connectivity could foster an integrated world economy, breaking down the importance of nations and governments. Foolish optimism, but perhaps we will even be able to make bureaucracy operate more effectively. I am very excited about the power of connectivity to solve research problems. It is happening already, but how wonderful when barriers of time and place no longer hinder collaboration.”
Bryan Alexander, a technology consultant and senior fellow at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, responded, “Gaming has become a planetary culture industry, and it often relies on Internet connections for downloads, socialization, P2P gaming, security, etc. Game designers constantly push the resolution and display envelope; more bandwidth encourages this. We should expect new forms of gaming to emerge, such as ones integrating daily life with games (think Kinect or Alternate Reality Games) or more-immersive forms (play with that video wall).”
An optimistic but more measured response came from Paul M.A. Baker, associate director of the Center for 21st Century Universities at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who predicted, “There will be steady, incremental change. It will be more related to interface design and enhanced AI [artificial intelligence] and information processing applications than to bandwidth increase, per se.”
Theme 3) The connection between humans and technology will tighten as machines gather, assess, and display real-time personalized information in an ‘always-on’ environment. This integration will affect many activities—including thinking, the documentation of life events (‘life-logging’), and coordination of daily schedules.
Laurel Papworth, a social media educator, responded, “We are looking at full video lifestreaming in the near future. The Lost Generation had to manually document their lives. The Eternity Generations (from now on) face a future where the tapestry of life has ceased to unravel. Lifestreaming from ultrasound to final illness (and beyond if we add intelligent bots to the life data) will be the killer app. The challenge going forward is to live a full life. No one will be able to sit around in their underwear watching TV if their lives are being streamed for current and future generations. There is a small possibility that by 2025 behavior will have normalized (back to passive, not caring of opinion of watchers) but more likely that will take more time.”
Robert Cannon, Internet law and policy expert, wrote, “We are moving into an era anticipated by [Internet pioneers] [J.C.R.] Licklider and Doug Engelbart where the smart device becomes the assistant to the knowledge worker and to, frankly, everyone doing everything. But, as the Internet of Things anticipates, we move beyond network humans to networked devices, where sensors and monitors and databases constantly interact creating information … Will there be a killer app in the future that changes everything? Maybe—but certainly what will change is that everything will be networked and everything will be providing information and interacting.”
Fred Baker, Internet pioneer, longtime leader in the IETF, and Cisco Systems Fellow, responded, “The current exponential growth of the network seems to show that connectivity is its own reward, and is more valuable than any individual application such as mail or the World-Wide Web. Today we use massive bandwidth for Map/Reduce and related applications, as well as communication at a distance. Obvious uses for communication capability at a distance include high-resolution hologram-like displays. But the biggest growth will be in machine-to-machine communications.”
David Orban, the CEO of Dotsub, wrote, “High-bandwidth and high-definition communication will allow the emergence of what we’ll call emotional computing. Remote group collaboration will gain a fundamental new dimension in being able to record, transmit, analyze, and understand the full gamut of human emotions. Facial expressions, subtle changes in voice stresses, gestures, will all be part of how we will communicate among each other for work and fun across any distance, with computers and software platforms understanding these components and being able to adapt to them, facilitating the efficient reaching of goals and objectives.”
K.G. Schneider, a university librarian, wrote, “I see amazing potential of wearable computing to contribute a near-harmonious information-seeking environment where the analog world is enhanced and opened by the digital world. There are probably implications for sexual environments, but I’d prefer not to dwell on that. Instead, I’ll make a haimish comment about how useful it would be to ‘see’ my recipes in a wearable heads-up display while I’m cooking, rather than interact manually with a paper book or worse, a tablet or other device.”
Marina Gorbis, executive director at the Institute for the Future, a nonprofit research organization, commented, “We will make significant advances in delivering context-aware applications of all kinds, i.e., providing information and resources that are relevant to the needs and context of the situation. These applications will automatically read the environment (location, mood, social and physical settings, intentions, etc.) and provide highly customized information that is relevant to a particular context.”
Hal Varian, chief economist for Google, commented, “The Internet of Things is real. Internet-enabled devices that interact with the physical world will be the norm. They will learn on their own, with some verbal instruction by their users. The big story here is continuous health monitoring… It will be much cheaper and more convenient to have that monitoring take place outside the hospital. You will be able to purchase health-monitoring systems just like you purchase home-security systems. Indeed, the home-security system will include health monitoring as a matter of course. Robotic and remote surgery will become commonplace. Lasik is just the beginning. Tools for artistic creation such as animated videos and interactive games will become much more powerful and enable collaborative creation.”
Theme 4) Specific economic and social sectors will be especially impacted; health/medicine and education were mentioned often.
JP Rangaswami, chief scientist for Salesforce.com, commented, “It will be classic William-Gibson-future’s-here stuff. The focus will shift from just thinking about live, very high-quality, video-based apps to [experiences] that create lots of data to be moved around, sometimes synchronously, sometimes asynchronously. Having a personal healthpod you strap yourself into daily will become normal; wearing clothes that are tailor-made for you every day, 3D-printed at home, will also become normal, with the previous day’s clothes recycled efficiently; the school day will disaggregate into a number of learning sessions, some at home, some in the neighborhood, some in pairs, some in larger groups, with different kinds of facilitators.”
Judith Donath, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, responded, “Telemedicine will be an enormous change in how we think of health care. Some will be from home—chronically ill or elderly patients will be released from hospitals with a kit of sensors that a home nurse can use. For others, drugstores (or private clinic chains—fast meds, analogous to fast foods) will have booths that function as remote examining, treatment, and simple surgery rooms. The next big food fad, after hipster locavores, will be individualized scientific diets, based on the theory that each person’s unique genetics, locations, and activities mean that she requires a specific diet, specially formulated each day. Augmented reality is another big future application that, for complex shared images, will require gigabit connectivity and very accurate sensing.”
Ed Lyell, a college professor of business and economics and early Internet policy consultant dating back to ARPANET, commented, “Just-in-time learning will continue to expand, permitting people of all ages to find the information they need when needed. It will permit the human mind to focus on creativity and critical thinking with known information being available as needed. Time in school will need to radically change since the talking-head, expert teacher is less and less valuable. The role of teacher-coach will be even more important yet require a different emotional and intellectual skill set than that which most educators now possess.”
Breanne Thomlison, founder and president of BTx2 Communications, a marketing and strategies firm, wrote, “Gigabit killer apps will be related to health and wellness and education. Tools will monitor us from birth and predict sickness and heal us faster. Genetics will be patented and evolve to have cures to current and new disease that will arise. All of this will happen rapidly. People will be able to connect with others who share similar DNA and experience a personal connection to focus on prevention versus treatment. When it comes to education, there will be an app for every child’s learning ability or disability… Children will be learning and tracking 24/7, while sharing their experience with selected-in peers and networks. Everyone will be the media and a newsmaker. Journalism will be more personal and targeted.”
Theme 5) New digital divides may open as people gain opportunities on different timelines and with different tools.
Danny Gillane, an information science professional, commented, “If there is a digital divide now, it will still exist in 2025. The divide’s existence will be magnified by the new killer apps—who has access and who does not, beneficiaries and those left out. Increased bandwidth and new compression technologies will just allow for more of the same as we have today—more entertainment, more commercial activities, more and better communications.”
Clifford Lynch, executive director for the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), wrote, “Where very high bandwidth environments exist (for example, the upper end of the research and higher education sectors) we are seeing a lot of innovation in science and scholarship that is dependent on very fast networks, advanced high-performance computing, and data-intensive practices. Our understanding of what gigabit connectivity can bring to consumers or small businesses (entertainment, games, education, commerce, social media) is much more limited. I worry greatly that most of these applications could be stillborn because affordable high-performance network connectivity to the general public in the United States is not very good and doesn’t seem to be getting much better quickly (witness the steady drop in the US rankings in global surveys of national Internet connectivity), due to a whole series of public policy and economic choices that have been made. The good news is that we are seeing some ‘labs’ established as Google, for example, wires a few cities for very high bandwidth. There are other areas to watch carefully as well: mobile devices are still very bandwidth-constrained, and the combination of very high bandwidth and mobile may yield some interesting new apps. Also many of the most interesting bandwidth-dependent apps seem to involve new sensors and I/O devices, and as we see new developments there (Kinect, etc.) these could point towards new apps. Think about the implications of a new generation of sensors that can be controlled by thinking here. Also some of these can use local Wi-Fi type technology to get fairly high bandwidth and then compress or abstract data streams that travel across the wide-area network, circumventing some of the bandwidth constraints.”
Rex Troumbley, a graduate research assistant at the University of Hawaii at Manoa commented, “We should not expect these bandwidth increases to be evenly distributed, and many who cannot afford access to increased bandwidth will be left with low-bandwidth options. We may see a new class divergence between those able to access immersive media, online telepathy, human consciousness uploads, and remote computing while the poor will be left with the low-bandwidth experiences we typically use today.”
George Lessard, information curator and communications and media specialist at MediaMentor.ca, wrote, “Yes and the digital divide’s gap between the US ‘have’ and ‘have-nots’ will grow even larger.”
Theme 6) Who knows? ‘I have no idea due to rapid change.’ ‘The best Internet apps are yet to emerge.’ ‘If I knew, I wouldn’t tell you, I would invest in it!’
danah boyd, a research scientist for Microsoft, responded, “Moore’s law predicts that the answer is yes. If I knew what it was, I’d be building that instead of filling out this survey.”
Joel Halpern, a distinguished engineer at Ericsson, responded, “Changes in capability (such as bandwidth, computation, storage, etc.) by several orders of magnitude are inevitable over the stated time frame. Such changes will produce completely new and exciting applications. To pretend we know what those applications will be is a mistake. Each time such things have emerged, they have largely been in spaces that were not anticipated. It is also worth remembering that many of the most pervasive effects will likely be in ways that are not directly visible, but make a dramatic difference indirectly.”
Howard Rheingold, a pioneering Internet sociologist and self-employed writer, consultant, and educator, responded, ‘Who has ever been able to predict the most significant results of increased bandwidth? Many, starting with Taylor and Licklider in 1968, have been able to see that networked computers would give rise to new communication media. But who could have foreseen YouTube?”
Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, wrote, “I could not have predicted Google, Facebook, Blogger, or certainly Twitter. So there’s no way I can predict what ubiquitous gigabit bandwidth will bring. I only know I want it.”
Tiffany Shlain, filmmaker, host of the AOL series The Future Starts Here, and founder of The Webby Awards, commented, “We have no idea what new apps will exist when every human on the planet is online. We could have never predicted Google or Twitter. I can’t wait to see what 2025 will bring.”
Seth Finkelstein, a programmer, consultant and EFF Pioneer of the Electronic Frontier Award winner, commented, “Historically, every new technological capability generates new applications which take advantage of that capability. However, if I knew exactly beforehand what those new killer apps would be, I’d be contacting a venture capital fund, not putting it in this survey.”
Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, responded, “It’s certainly possible there will be ‘killer apps’ but it’s hard to see what they will be. Even super HD video does not require anything near one gigabyte.”
Theme 7) Advances will be gradual for various reasons: Bandwidth is not the issue. The US will continue to lag by 2025 because a widespread gigabit network is not easily achieved.
David Clark, a senior research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, wrote, “Video will continue to be the major driver of bandwidth demand. Video is not new or distinctive. There will be new apps, but I doubt that they will be enabled by increases in bandwidth. The exception may be mobile apps, which are highly constrained by cellular capacity.”
Mike Roberts, Internet pioneer and longtime leader with ICANN and the Internet Society, responded, “I’ve been involved professionally with this issue for years. It suffers from the usual problems of hype and misunderstanding. At least three major forces are at work in what is called gigabit networks. 1) The economic issue of fair and equitable access to the Internet; 2) The economic structure in which bandwidth and applications and content generally are provided with Internet technology; and 3) The opportunities for new applications development which are possible when gigabit-style bandwidth is available to citizens. Generally, we are still stuck in the situation with Internet technology where success is being measured by comparison to the way things used to be done. Yes, there eventually will be killer apps dependent on gigabit-style bandwidth, but the path to them will be longer and more tortuous than advocates like to admit.”
Robert E. McGrath, an Internet pioneer and software engineer who participated in developing the World Wide Web and advanced interfaces, commented, “First, there will not be ‘significant increases in bandwidth’ in the United States. Increases yes, but not significant. Second, I’ll take a chance here and say that there will be no ‘killer app,’ at least not of the magnitude of the Internet. Lots of cool stuff will roll out, some people will get rich, but nothing really ground-breaking. I note that there haven’t been any ‘killer apps’ for quite a while. All the recent candidates (social media) are minor permutations of Internet messaging. Third, it would take massive investment in basic research now to get anything game changing by 2025. Investment is going down, which makes me say there will be no great results, since we aren’t doing the work to get them.”
Leah Lievrouw, a professor of information studies at the University of California-Los Angeles, responded, “I tend to agree with economists like Tyler Cowen and Robert Gordon that much of the innovativeness in the last couple of decades has been incremental, refining and building and elaborating on more fundamental infrastructural changes that are now decades old, like TCP/IP and other key features of Internet architecture, optical and satellite data transmission, petrochemicals and transportation, and so on. Over the last couple of decades, especially with the commercialization of publicly-funded infrastructure projects like the Internet and the ‘mean world’ perceptions of the post-9/11 age, the pressures to lock down, ‘stabilize,’ and render disruptive digital technologies ‘safe’ and predictable have dominated political discourse and popular culture, which has in many respects limited the emergence of truly disruptive innovations that would destabilize existing markets, products, and infrastructures. So we might well increase digital bandwidth, but use it to deliver and meter familiar, trusted (and ‘safe’) products and services, or variations on them: media content, college lectures, voice telephony, security services, public utilities, financial information and services, health care advice, and so on.”
Andre Brock, a survey participant who shared no additional identifying details, wrote, “I am unwilling to believe that there will be ‘significant’ increases in bandwidth before 2025. My concern lies with the unwillingness of telecom providers to upgrade their backbones to accommodate gigabit bandwidth and their continued litigation strategies to prohibit municipal Internet service providers willing to install their own fiber. Without significant federal intervention on the lines of the ‘universal service’ provision of the 1996 Telecom Act, we will continue to see incremental increases in bandwidth (wired and wireless), overcharges for ‘4G’ access, and increased telecom lobbying against net neutrality in order to profit from ‘tiered service’ throttled access.”
David Bollier, a long-time scholar and activist focused on the commons, responded, “The question contains embedded assumptions that may or may not hold true: 1) that the Internet will necessarily remain open and nondiscriminatory (net neutrality); 2) that telecom providers will indeed build out Internet bandwidth in significant and roughly ubiquitous ways; and 3) that killer apps are the necessarily the biggest, most desirable outcome imaginable. The social capacity to use and diffuse new apps, and to innovate ‘on top’ of them, is at least as important. The most promising avenues involve social collaboration, especially in nonmarket, commons-based contexts—but most business models today presume some monetization imperative that can limit or poison collaborative possibilities, and bottom-up, self-organized financing and governance remain rudimentary and under-theorized.”
Doc Searls, director of Project VRM at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, agreed that resistance by entrenched interests may not stop the eventual development of the gigabit Internet. He wrote, “For apps to be truly killer we will need symmetrical high-speed (gigabit+) connectivity, so the speed of the network—in both directions—approaches or equals that of our machines and our home networks. I believe that will happen. The examples we already see in Chattanooga and Kansas City will go viral in other cities, despite political opposition by the incumbent carriers, which seem hell-bent on keeping old TV consumption and business models alive for as long as possible. Once symmetrical gigabit connectivity happens, offsite storage and computation in clouds, for everybody, will become a norm. So will personal control over how that is done. Once everybody can keep and manipulate their own data in their own clouds, the Internet of Things will be included as well.”
And some said innovation will occur regardless of bandwidth. Glenn Edens, a director of research in networking, security, and distributed systems within the Computer Science Laboratory at PARC, a Xerox Company, replied, “The new and distinctive applications will occur with or without increased bandwidth. Our current progress in increased bandwidth is pretty miserable; my home bandwidth has been stuck at 24 megabits (on a good day) for many years now. Mobile bandwidth is getting better but usage increases are still outpacing gains. Application developers find new and interesting things to do all the time—a lot new will occur even if bandwidth gains stall.”