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What Does a Gigabit Get Us?

Pew Research did a survey of 1,464 industry experts and asked then what killer apps we can expect if the US is able to significantly increase customer bandwidth between now and 2025. About 86% of the experts thought that bandwidth would improve enough by then to provide a platform for supporting widespread new applications.

The question does not suppose that everybody will have a gigabit of download speed, although by then there will many homes and businesses with that much speed available. But one can also suppose that by then that there will be many people with download speeds of hundreds of megabits. The cable companies are on a path with DOCSIS 3.1 to be able to increase speeds significantly on their networks if they so choose. So the biggest chance for fast speeds for the masses is not having fiber built everywhere by 2025, but rather of having the cable companies stepping up over the next decade. Most experts are thinking that they will to some extent (and I agree).

There were a few applications that a number of the experts agreed would become prevalent if download speeds increase:

Telepresence. There was a feeling that telepresence will have come a long way over the next decade. We already see the beginning of this today. For example, Julian Assange from WikiLeaks recently appeared at a summit in Nantucket via hologram. That is the precursor for having routine meetings with people by hologram. This would not just be speakers at conferences (but it would make it easier to get more impressive speakers when they don’t have to travel). But it means having salesmen make calls by telepresence. It means having staff meeting and other business meetings by telepresence. This is going to have a huge impact on business and could represent huge cost savings by reducing travel and the wasted costs and hours due to travel.

But there is also going to be a huge market for residential telepresence. One of the most popular features today of an iPhone is Facetime that lets people easily see each other while they talk. And Skyping has become wildly popular. One can imagine that people will grab onto telepresence as soon as the associated hardware is affordable, as a way to spend time with family and friends.

The experts also think that telepresence will have a big impact on medicine and education. Telemedicine will have come a long way when if a patient can spend time in the ‘presence’ of a doctor. Telepresence also will be huge for shopping since you will be able to get 3D demos of products online. In fact, this might become the first most prominent use of the technology.

Virtual Reality. Somewhat related to telepresence will be greatly improved virtual reality. We have the start of this today with Oculus Rift, but over a decade, with more bandwidth and faster processors we can have improved virtual reality experiences that can be used for gaming or for blending the fantasy world with the real one. There was also news last week that Microsoft demonstrated a 3D hologram gaming platform they are calling GameAlive that brings something akin to a holodeck experience into your living room. Over a decade virtual reality is likely to move beyond the need for a special helmet and will instead move into our homes and businesses.

Imagine being in a gym room and playing a game of tennis or some other sport with a friend who is elsewhere or against an imaginary opponent. Imagine taking virtual tours of foreign tourist destinations or even of visiting imaginary places like other planets or fantasy worlds. It is likely that gaming and virtual reality will become so good that they will become nearly irresistible. So I guess if computers take all of our jobs at least we’ll have something fun to do.

Internet of Things. Within a decade the IoT will become a major factor in our daily lives and the interaction between people and machines will become more routine. We are already starting to see the beginning of this in that we spend a lot of our time connected to the web. But as we become more entwined with technology it means a big change in our daily lives. For example, experts all expect personal assistants like Siri to improve to the point where they become a constant part of our lives.

Just last week we saw IBM roll out their Watson supercomputer platform for the use in daily apps. That processing speed along with better conversational skills is quickly going to move the web and computer apps deeper into our lives. Many of the experts refer to this as a future of being ‘always-on”, where computers become such a routine part of life that we always are connected. Certainly wearables and other devices will make it easier to always have the web and your personal assistant with you.

Aside from the many benefits of the IoT which I won’t discuss here, the fact that computers will become omnipresent is perhaps the most important prediction about our future.

Not everything predicted by the experts was positive and tomorrow I am going to look at a few of those issues.

2 replies on “What Does a Gigabit Get Us?”

Dear Doug:
I think that the major question is going to be, what is the added bandwidth going to get us, in terms of quality access or quality programming?
If the answer is “more of the same”, then there really is no need for the added bandwidth… we have enough channels and bandwidth for all of those “I Love Lucy” reruns, and other junk that we currently get… thank you very much…

If someone has new ideas, let’s hear them!!

I don’t think that is programming that is going to drive the future need for broadband for most homes. A really large number of homes already have enough broadband to watch programming over the Internet, although in small town markets many are already locked out from seeing HD video. Programming will probably require more bandwidth over time as some programming migrates to 4k video, but to a large degree most of us can watch programming using our existing bandwidth.

What is instead going to drive bandwidth is lifestyle uses of bandwidth, not programming. You have taught music and there is going to come a time in the near-future where you could do this by telepresence. By the use of holograms, you and a student will be able to feel like you are sitting in the same room with each other while you give your lessons. This means no commutes across the busy DC metro area for students, no cancellations due to bad weather, and few cancellations due to the time involved of traveling to and from a lesson. It also means you could take students from anywhere or would not have to lose a student if they move. So there is one personal use of bandwidth that will benefit you directly that is not programming-related. And as you can quickly imagine, people will find many uses for telepresence and we will wonder how we ever lived without it. You will be able to spend more time with an aging relative, stay closer to kids away at college and be able to partake in many activities without having to leave your home.

Of more interest to many of us aging baby boomers is going to be enhanced medical monitoring and in-home care by doctors that is going to let us live healthier lives and to stay in our home for years longer. That is going to involve similar technologies to telepresence and will require bandwidth.

I found it interesting that in the Pew Survey that almost none of the discussion of future needs for bandwidth were about programming. We’ve already solved that puzzle and we are moving on to other things.

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