Is the internet fast enough?

1Gbps internet is here- where are the applications utilizing it?

Is the internet fast enough?
I feel the need, the need for speed.

1Gbps internet is here- where are the applications utilizing it? Internet speed is more than fast enough in developed countries for the vast majority of use cases. The U.S.has a median download speed of 59 Mbps on mobile and 153 Mbps for fixed broadband. The most data-intensive task for most users is video streaming, which requires 15 Mbps. I’m not suggesting 15 Mbps is sufficient, especially for households with multiple people. But the benefit of a speed increase from 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps is vastly more meaningful than 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps. In the latter case, most won’t be able to tell the difference. Certainly the fatter pipe will allow you to do more of the same with more users faster, but it won’t allow you to do anything fundamentally new.

In 2011 Google Fiber selected Kansas City as the first location to receive its 1Gbps internet service. A decade in and we still haven’t found a killer use case. Commercial airline travel speed has stalled since Boeing unveiled the 747 in 1969. Turns out seven hours across the Atlantic is fast enough. Do I think internet speed will follow a similar trajectory? No. I am merely pondering out loud how surprising it is that we haven’t found a use case. Until now we’ve always been able to fill the pipe. Now we have headroom. For a hint at how users could possibly fill the 1Gbps pipe, a helpful place to start is looking at the most bandwidth-demanding apps today.

Mighty is a browser that runs in the cloud and streams to your computer. As far as I know, at 80 Mbps, it has the highest bandwidth requirement of any consumer app. This concept isn’t new. Virtualization has been around for decades. It allows your computer to offload the heavy lifting to a server. This use case is perfect for gaming, which normally requires high powered hardware. With the likes of Xbox Cloud Gaming, Nvidia’s GeForce Now, Google’s Stadia, and Amazon Luna, users can game on a lower powered machine because the computationally intensive work is happening in the cloud. Of the three, Geforce Now states the highest minimum required connection of 40Mbps for the highest quality setting. Besides speed, the latency of your internet connection is also extremely important. Latency refers to the time it takes for the data to travel from your machine to the server and back. Latency of 13 ms and below is considered imperceptible to humans. The U.S.has a median internet latency of 33 ms on mobile and 14 ms for fixed broadband. What happens when a critical mass of users have 1Gbps speeds with sub-perceptible latency? Let me propose something.

Everything becomes virtualized. Computing devices offload all of their computation to the cloud and retain the bare minimum of computation power and storage to connect to the cloud. The notion of local files or local apps becomes foreign. Even photos would be instantly sent to the cloud and returned fully processed back to your device in a matter of milliseconds. Something as benign as a swipe gesture would be handled in the cloud — if swiping is still even a thing by then. Devices become cheap because they just become terminals to the real computation which happens in the cloud. Losing a device becomes a non-event, simply sign in to another and everything is there instantly because it was never there at all. In this model, cryptography would play an extremely vital role. The cloud must be able to handle all of your computing needs without being able to snoop.

Or maybe not. Maybe only the applications that really need it become virtualized. And, maybe you don’t even know if it’s virtualized or not. Adobe’s video editing tool Premiere is a great candidate for this. In fact it has already begun. Audio transcriptions are processed in the cloud to create subtitles. The video processing is still done locally because uploading raw video files, processing and editing them in the cloud, and downloading them is just going to be prohibitively long on anything other than a super fast connection. But who knows. Hell, a decade ago at my part-time college gig I wrote a business case for virtualizing all the computers in the classrooms. Even back then I felt like it would be soon before this would be the norm. A decade later and it doesn’t feel closer.

Or maybe both cases I’ve pointed out come true, but one before the other. Or maybe on device computation becomes so good that the cloud becomes less relevant. I doubt it. But who knows. That’s the point. That’s the beauty of it. Technology is an infinite canvas with all of humanity painting on top of each other and combining ideas. It’s a beautiful progressive exercise of human ingenuity- each generation standing on top of the previous passing the paintbrush upward.

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