News & Insights.

The latest industry innovations and insights.

Can our increasing demand for bandwidth be met in the next decade?

Industry 4.0. The Internet of Things. The AI revolution and the coming wave of automation that will take all our jobs away. Big data giving us answers to problems we haven’t even perceived!

These are the titles that dominate any futurist writing at the present time. And all of them, without exception, depend entirely on connectivity for their success. The demand for bandwidth has rocketed over the last decade, and there is no sign of that slowing down. So how will the next decade compare to our previous use, and what will be the main drivers behind it? And will we even be able to meet it?

The historical use of bandwidth has been examined by Jakob Neilsen, who, in 1998, published a study looking at bandwidth speeds from 1983. This led him to develop what has become known as ‘Neilsen’s Law of Internet bandwidth,’ which states that “a high-end user’s bandwidth grows by 50% a year.” Neilsen has recently updated his study as of 2018, and the prediction made back in 1998 looks remarkably accurate when viewed across the entire 36 year period of the study (from 1983 to 2018). Bandwidth has indeed grown at a rate of 49-50% per year – it is indeed an uncannily accurate prediction.

As of 2018, Neilsen’s data shows a bandwidth speed of 300 Mbps. This means by 2020 that it should be around 675 Mbps, and that by 2025 it will be 5.125 Gbps. By 2030, this is nearly an incredible 40 Gbps. It really is proof of the power of compound interest.

If this holds true, (and whilst the prediction to date has been remarkably accurate these figures for 2030 look astonishing), then we will essentially have the capacity to download 10 DVDs per second in twelve years time. It taxes the imagination to understand what that would mean for a society, business, and especially on an individual level.

Neilsen’s Law is obviously a result of bandwidth demand: there is a need for higher bandwidth, and modern usage indicates what drivers are behind this growth in recent years. Netflix, for example, accounts for 15% of worldwide bandwidth demand (downstream traffic). Youtube is 11.4%. But the big explosion looks set to come from the gaming sector: Call of Duty, Black Ops, is a 101GB download to install, which, as pointed out in 2018 Global Internet Phenomena Report by Sandvine, is the same as watching 14 hours of 4K video on Netflix.

The drivers behind the current use and demand of bandwidth are more than just consumer related however. The planned ‘Square Kilometre Array,’ a radio telescope to be built in the southern hemisphere, will generate data at a hundred times the rate of the internet in 2013. This highly specific engineering challenge of managing such vast data drives new innovation in bandwidth capabilities that may very well permeate through to the commercial and consumer sectors, and might indeed be the inspiration behind the forecast 40 Gbps of 2030.

The coming of 5G will also encourage higher bandwidth demand through more use of mobile devices: we can very well imagine a very near future of immersive games that use the player’s local environment in a form of Augmented Reality, played in real time, and requiring symmetric upload and download speeds to participate in.

And whilst 40 Gbps does, today, seem an astonishing rate, we might put this into perspective when we consider the era of personalised medicine just around the corner. An individual’s genome is just under a 1 GB of information, yet if we ever come to the time when most of the population have them mapped out, then healthcare will see an increased use as this information is accessed to diagnose and treat problems for a population of 70 million individuals.

Technology will also develop to use this speed as well. The most probable use for it will be in communicating, via Augmented Reality or even holography (or holoportation), in 3D rather than 2D perspectives, in real time. This will require an expansion of data may times what a 2D video call currently requires, and, as with current live two-way communication, will require upload and download speeds that are the same.

One other trend will look to drive bandwidth in the next decade is the demand from the Internet of Things. With more devices being connected to the Internet than people, this is certain to be a massive push factor for bandwidth. Indeed, even today, technology such as NEST Thermostat is the 344th most upload heavy use of bandwidth, as users control their home heating remotely.

Perhaps the most important conclusion we can gather from Neilsen’s Law of Internet bandwidth is that if it continues to increase at 50% per year, then new technologies will emerge that can take advantage of this massive increase. I would also suggest that data compression technologies will allow for more data to be sent over less bandwidth, and this technology will be driven by the need to reduce energy costs in data centres and to reduce the environmental cost of such energy intensive resources.

Perhaps, where these two trends meet will be a great new step for worldwide connectivity? But ask yourself, what would you do with 40 Gbps bandwidth speed? How would it change your industry?