Video killed the radio star. But could it also kill the Internet? New research from American analyst firm Nemertes Research Group says that by 2010, increasing Internet traffic, particularly video applications like YouTube and Hulu, will fatally clog the tubes.
This isn’t the first such prediction that has been made in the recent past: Brett Swanson of the Discovery Institute, a think tank, warned in 2007 of a coming surge of data that “today’s networks are not remotely prepared to handle”. So are the increasingly dire predictions of the demise of the Internet on the mark, or have rumours of the Net’s death been grossly exaggerated?
It is true that with the advent of Web 2.0, Internet usage has shifted to bandwidth-heavy applications like YouTube and Skype. The amount of traffic generated by YouTube in 2006 was more than that of the entire Internet in 2000. At 50-60 percent a year, the current growth of Internet traffic is enormous. However, several experts believe that the Internet is in no danger of collapsing under the weight of its own success.
Andrew Odlyzko, a computer scientist at the University of Minnesota who specialises in analysing historical trends in networking, believes that global Internet traffic is and will remain manageable with modest capacity updates.
There is some evidence to support that conclusion. For one, telecom companies in both Britain and America are already investing significant amounts in order to upgrade Internet infrastructure, including the last mile cable, to increase capacity. Secondly, the Internet was originally developed to withstand all kinds of catastrophes and has proven to be remarkably robust. It has coped with massive growth over the past 15 years. There’s no reason to suppose this can’t continue.
Anyway, engineers are preparing for the worst by working to replace the Internet with a superfast ‘grid’. So, even if capacity updates fail to keep pace with demand, an alternative will be in place. No one is suggesting that the Internet wouldn’t face operational difficulties if it was left just as it is.
The debate is over whether the rate of investment in capacity upgradation is fast enough to cope with rising demand. Studies like this can provide an impetus for telecom majors to invest in infrastructure. As of now, though, it’s safe to assume that the Net will be with us for a while more.