From Modems to Cable—and Beyond

by Dan Lothringer, Contributing Writer, LifeSize

For many of us, it is hard to remember a time when “Google” wasn’t part of the vernacular. (Photo Courtesy of Google.com)

The Internet has become a ubiquitous part of American life. In fact, for many of us it’s hard to remember a time when it wasn’t there. To give you some perspective, 15 years ago, only 16 percent of Americans could access the Internet at home. In 1996, eBay was still called AuctionWeb, most web users browsed on Netscape Navigator and Google had not yet been founded. At the beginning of the year, there were approximately 100,000 websites on the World Wide Web.

As of December 2010, there were 255 million websites being perused by nearly 2 billion individuals worldwide. Twitter users sent 25 billion tweets and Facebook hosted 30 billion pieces of content. Two billion videos were streamed daily on YouTube, which added 35 hours of footage every minute of every day. Google processes about 34,000 searches per second. And according to a study released by comScore, Americans gave online retailers $6 billion during this year’s “Cyber Week” (the week ending on December2).

Clearly, the Internet is here to stay.

Remember those AOL CD-ROMs? (Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia)

It’s easy to start taking something as pervasive and monumental as the Internet for granted, and though we often wait with baited breath for the release of the next iPhone or tablet device, we just as often think of the future only as an extension of the present. The simple fact is that—as staggering and cutting-edge as the Internet is today—it’s still in its infancy. In another 15 years, much of how we currently experience the Internet will seem as antiquated as dial-up modems and America Online CDs delivered in the mail.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, 200 million Americans have high-speed Internet connections in their homes, connections that range in speed from 20 to 105 megabits per second. A standard modem from 1996 topped out at a measly 33.6 kilobits per second—1/3,200th the speed of today’s cable systems. To put that in context, the same music album which today can be downloaded in three seconds would take an internet user in 1996 two hours and 45 minutes. Today’s incredible speed makes it possible for data transfers of previously unbelievable size, and as more Americans gain access to high-speed Internet, more of our daily lives will be conducted online.

Dr. Susan P. Crawford notes that within a decade, video conferencing will allow even more patients to attend doctor appointments online, drastically lowering the cost of healthcare. Many more classes will be taught online to students attending from the comfort of their homes. Countless jobs will be performed remotely, and smart-grid technology will allow us to control our homes’ energy use with the touch of a button. We may even grin for a moment as we stream a 3D movie to our wireless smartphone at the rate of a gigabit per second, remembering how frustrating it was when the low-definition video we wanted to watch had to buffer every 20 seconds.

Because of the ubiquity of high-speed Internet and the use of advanced technology in industries such as healthcare and education, it is imperative that companies create solutions to meet or exceed the expectations of its users. High-definition picture quality is no longer a privilege; it is in almost every home.  Business users can experience a seamless HD video call at bandwidths as low as 768 Kbps. The future is here. Now.

Have some technology predictions of your own? Leave a comment in the box below and let us know how you think the Internet will evolve in the next five, 10 or 20 years.

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