We are living in the information age and are constantly on the quest for more. More information that is. Through the use of the internet, we have access to a wider variety of information than those who lived before us, but still we want more, and we want it faster. What steps are we taking to fulfil these desires? Where will this lead us?
Fiber optic communication is a method of transmitting information by pulsing light through an optical fiber. Fiber optic networks are currently being used in countries such as Japan, China, South Korea, and the USA.
Google is rolling out their fiber optic service to some parts of the USA. They advertise Gigabit speeds, which have a theoretical download speed of 125 Megabytes per second. To put this in perspective, you could download a 1080p, 20GB copy of Braveheart (which you have of course purchased legally) in less than three minutes.
A joint group of researchers from the Netherlands and the US have achieved 255 Terabits per second on a single strand of multi-core fiber. At this speed, you could download 1.5 thousand copies of Braveheart in less than a second. What could you do with all that Braveheart? Well you wouldn’t be able to write it to the current fastest SSD, as it would be about 62 thousand times too slow. Researches in Britain have tested 5G in lab conditions and reached 1 Terabit per second, which is also faster than SSD.
It seems like an upcoming bottleneck for Internet usage will be disk write speeds, which is not a bad thing. Firstly; technology will improve to allow faster write speeds, secondly; do you actually need to download that much Braveheart onto your local storage? These fast speeds will change the way the Internet, and computers are used. Braveheart could be streamed whenever you would like to watch it. In fact all of your data and applications could be stored on the cloud, and streamed to your computer on demand. Most people will not need a computer as the cloud can also provide you with all the graphics and processing power you need. Really the only thing you will need is a display with a super fast Internet connection. Lets call this device a NetScreen.
How will using a NetScreen effect the way you interact with modern day applications? The concept of downloading or buffering will be a thing of the past. Browser tabs may be reduced as there is no wait-for-load time. Data will be consumed in greater quantity and quality than ever before. Video game latency will be minimised to the speed of light, and allow players to enjoy full immersion. Skype calls might not even break up as much.
Wearable NetScreens will take off in a big way, interfacing with your eyes and hand gestures similarly to Microsoft Hololense (see also Google Glass, Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear, etc). The ability to augment your reality to show you streamed information on people, places and objects that you are looking at will be hugely advantageous. Large amounts of data will be collected and analysed in real time. Any surface or airspace could be turned into your personal display. Friends, family, or even Mel Gibson could be overlaid onto your couch if desired. You will be able to replace real world advertisements with pictures of cats, but the vendor of your device could also place advertisements on your real life cats.
Everyone would like a fast internet connection, but wiring the entire earth with fiber optic cables is not feasible. 5G towers will only have a range of about 100m, so coverage will be limited to densely populated areas. Currently there are a lot of people that do not have access to internet as there are no service providers in their area.
An option for these people will be to connect to a network that is beamed down from the sky. This method has already been tested by Google as part of it’s project Loon. In 2013, Google launched balloons 32km into the skies above New Zealand, and provided wireless network speeds of up to 3G quality, to users in and around Christchurch and the Canterbury Region. As this original test proved successful, Google has expanded to provide 4G LTE service to a greater number of people in a wider area over Brazil, and is partnering with telcos in Australia, New Zealand and Latin America. While Google has had some success with balloons, other aircraft are also being considered. Google has acquired Titan Aerospace, a maker of solar powered drones that can stay airborne for years. Facebook has bought UK-based drone maker Ascenta. CEO Mark Zuckerburg has said Facebook is working on drones to help bring the Internet to the nearly two thirds of the world that doesn’t yet have it.
Further up, beyond our atmosphere, there are plans for an “Outernet” made up of satellites. OneWeb and Virgin, have teamed up and are planning on launching the world’s largest satellite network made up of 648 small satellites, weighing at 130kg each. OneWeb has already secured a block of radio spectrum that it plans on using for its internet service, and would like to launch as early as 2018. Google and SpaceX have teamed up toward similar goals in providing internet via satellite. Satellite internet requires hardware on the user end to receive the signal, but once set up, It can be accessed in places that do not have access to terrestrial broadband.
Earth wide, and possibly free internet sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch? Well for starters you will be giving these companies more of your personal data than ever before. Huge amounts of internet usage patterns will be collected and used to more accurately target adds at you. “Please sign into FaceBook to view this page” could become the norm, and watching a one-minute add for every ten-minutes of browsing (a la Youtube) might just drive you insane. It’s a potential cost for the use of free internet beamed from above the clouds, but of course you could always pay for the add-free pro version, that only subliminally advertises, and allows you to connect to multiple IP addresses at the same time.
Internet of Things
Computers and NetScreens are not the only things that can use the internet. There is a growing number of devices that can connect and send data through online applications to a host, and to each other. These devices collect data through the use of embedded sensors, software and electronics. They currently range from monitoring health, controlling lighting, monitoring water tank levels, temperature control and many more.
The number and variety of devices connected is expected to increase, and the amount of data that these devices will be sending will be enormous. You could have all your stuff set the way you like it and it adjusts that way before you use it; water, music stations, light levels, thermostat, etc. Going to the gym? The car you drive adjusts everything to your liking before you even get in; seat, mirror, radio, temperature. You get in the elevator and it uses your music preferences, quickly finding something everyone in the elevator likes. When you arrive, you step up to the counter, and it lets you know if the pool is available and gives you a workout plan to coincide with which machines/rooms are open.
This will be a gold mine for marketing agencies (and also Big Brother), who will use this information to target very precise adds at you. Adds will be shown to you only when you are looking at the advertising medium and will monitor your reaction to the point that it knows you dislike it. The marketing system will advertise more subtly next time.
A standard platform should be developed as a starting point for Internet of Things devices. The platform should have cryptographic security by default and of course open source. Security will be a big factor as “hackers” could steal your data or control your devices. Someone or something with malicious intent, could potentially hack into your Internet of Things network and burn your toast, run your bath too hot or even speed up your pacemaker.
We are heading toward more data, faster speeds, and potentially less privacy. Availability of the Internet will increase along with the number of users and devices connected. Hopefully this will lead to an open community of like-minded developers, working toward a secure service for all. Open source software will thrive and high quality media will be abundantly available. Devices will monitor your behaviour in an effort to make your life better, but also to provide others with useful information about your lifestyle and habits.