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Outlook 2010

10 fool-proof predictions for the Internet in 2020

Researchers expect more users, sensors. But will the `net be more secure?

By , Network World
January 04, 2010 12:02 AM ET
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Network World - Forty years after it was invented, the Internet is straining under the weight of cyber attacks, multimedia content and new mobile applications. In response, U.S. computer scientists are re-thinking every aspect of the Internet's architecture, from IP addresses to routing tables (see main story: 2020 Vision: Why you won't recognize the 'Net in 10 years) to overall Internet security. There are many views about how to fix the Internet's architecture, but there's widespread agreement about many aspects of the future Internet. Here's our list of 11 surefire bets for what the Internet will look like in a decade.

The Evolution of the Internet 

1. More people will use the Internet.

Today's Internet has 1.7 billion users, according to Internet World Stats. This compares with a world population of 6.7 billion people. There's no doubt more people will have Internet access by 2020. Indeed, the National Science Foundation predicts that the Internet will have nearly 5 billion users by then. So scaling continues to be an issue for any future Internet architecture.

2. The Internet will be more geographically dispersed.

Most of the Internet's growth over the next 10 years will come from developing countries. The regions with the lowest penetration rates are Africa (6.8%), Asia (19.4%) and the Middle East (28.3%), according to Internet World Stats. In contrast, North America has a penetration rate of 74.2%. This trend means the Internet in 2020 will not only reach more remote locations around the globe but also will support more languages and non-ASCII scripts.

3. The Internet will be a network of things, not computers.

As more critical infrastructure gets hooked up to the Internet, the Internet is expected to become a network of devices rather than a network of computers. Today, the Internet has around 575 million host computers, according to the CIA World Factbook 2009. But the NSF is expecting billions of sensors on buildings and bridges to be connected to the Internet for such uses as electricity and security monitoring. By 2020, it's expected that the number of Internet-connected sensors will be orders of magnitude larger than the number of users.

4. The Internet will carry exabytes — perhaps zettabytes — of content.

Researchers have coined the term "exaflood" to refer to the rapidly increasing amount of data — particularly high-def images and video – that is being transferred over the Internet. Cisco estimates that global Internet traffic will grow to 44 exabytes per month by 2012 — more than double what it is today. Increasingly, content providers such as Google are creating this content rather than Tier 1 ISPs. This shift is driving interest in re-architecting the Internet to be a content-centric network, rather than a transport network.

5. The Internet will be wireless.

The number of mobile broadband subscribers is exploding, hitting 257 million in the second quarter of 2009, according to Informa. This represents an 85% increase year-over year for 3G, WiMAX and other higher speed data networking technologies. Currently, Asia has the most wireless broadband subscribers, but the growth is strongest in Latin America. By 2014, Informa predicts that 2.5 billion people worldwide will subscribe to mobile broadband.

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