A look back and a look forward at the Internet, in recognition of International Internet Day.
Wednesday, 29 October, was commemorated as International Internet Day – a time to recognise the power of that medium and how integral it has become to our lives. In this post, we do just that. We briefly examine how the Internet has evolved, where it might go, and what are some of the challenges that may still need to be addressed, especially in the Caribbean.
How far we’ve come
Though as a publicly available medium, the Internet is just over 23 years old, virtually all aspects of the medium – from how it can be accessed, to how it can be used, has evolved, and would be unrecognisable from how it initially began on 6 August 1991. Since the launch of that single website in 1991, we reached an estimated 672,985,183 websites in 2013 (Source: Internet Live Stats).
Twenty years ago, the way most persons accessed the Internet was via dialup access. Today, dialup is almost extinct in most countries worldwide, and has been replaced by mediums and technologies such as:
- Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) over copper lines
- fibre optic
- coaxial cables
- WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access)
- High Speed Packet Access+ (HSPA+), and
- Long Term Evolution (LTE).
Functionality of the Internet has also changed. We have moved from highly text-based websites to ones that can integrate a range of images and graphics, video, and even applications. We have had buzz words such as Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, the latter of which signalling a transition from users being just consumers of content, to being creators of content.
Further, as a technology, the Internet, is transforming how we communicate, since it can support multiple services, including voice, data, and video over that medium. For example, as was highlighted in our recent article on Digicel’s imminent entry into the subscriber television market,
- globally, IP video traffic will be 79% of all consumer Internet traffic in 2018, up from 66% in 2013 (and does not include video exchanged through peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing)
- all forms of video (TV, video on demand (VoD), Internet, and P2P) will be in the range 80—90% of global consumer traffic by 2018 (Source: Cisco).
Tip of the iceberg
However, as much as the Internet has evolved thus far, most experts agree that we are still at the tip of the iceberg – with respect to what it will become, how it will transform our lives, and the associated impact. Currently, some of the developments that perhaps truly have not yet reach their fullest potential, and with which we are still grappling, include:
- big data
- machine-to-machine communication
- the Internet of things
- social media
- cloud computing
Furthermore, while we tend to think of these advancements in isolation, the results and impact when they interplay with each is not yet known. For example, Gartner Inc., one of the leading IT analyst firms, has coined the phrase “the Nexus of Forces” to highlight the “convergence and mutual reinforcement of social, mobility, cloud and information patterns that drive new business scenarios” (Source: Gartner).
In the Nexus of Forces model, information is the context that drives the social media and mobile experience. Mobile devices serve as the platform for new ways to work and provide opportunities for social networking, while the social media delivers users to the work in new ways. Cloud enables that delivery, solidifying the converging structure of the four emerging trends. The Nexus of Forces concept is applicable to both social and enterprise spaces and is not limited to any one organizational size.
Challenges still to overcome
Although exciting times still lie ahead for the Internet, and for all of us as users, there are still a number of challenges to overcome, especially in developing countries such as those in the Caribbean. A few examples include:
- Access. The networks for both wired and wireless broadband Internet might be extensive, but subscriptions levels are still relatively low across the Caribbean. Due to the proliferation of mobile/cellular in the region, consumers have a means of accessing mobile/cellular broadband service, but the rates are still not readily affordable for the average consumer.
- Quality of service. Essentially, actual upload and download speeds across the region are considerably lower than those in more developed countries, which would affect how Caribbean consumers use the medium, and how the region’s “Internet culture” develops and evolves.
- Enabling environment. Globally, most countries have recognised the importance of the Internet in their continued economic and social development. However, in order to realise those benefits, governments must ensure that needed enabling environment is created for the Internet to be better harnessed in their countries, and for all citizens to benefit.
- Harnessing the opportunity. One of the consequences of poor quality Internet service and an underdeveloped enabling environment is that it limits countries, and their citizens, in truly capitalising on the opportunities that the Internet affords. In many instance, and with respect to the enabling environment, countries frequently focus on infrastructure; so matters related to access tend to be given priority, but key inputs towards innovation and entrepreneurship, such as financing, ease of doing business, etc., tend to be overlooked.
Image credit: Internet Society