2013: Welcome to the universal internet

2013: Welcome to the universal internet

Summary: Today, the internet is everywhere, and we're still getting our minds around what that really means for our personal lives and our businesses.


Ten years ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) started deregulating incumbent local exchange companies' (ILECs') broadband services. Shorn of jargon, that meant the telephone and cable companies were free to offer newer, faster internet broadband services. The FCC expected this move to bring tens of billions of dollars into residential broadband. It did. What they didn't expect was Netflix, iPads, or Google Glass.

Internet Everywhere
The internet is everywhere.

In 2003, many of us were still in the modem age of the internet, when 56 kilobits per second (Kbps) was fast. According to Jakob Nielsen's law of internet bandwidth, "A high-end user's connection speed grows by 50 percent per year." He was right.

Today, by content delivery network (CDN) provider Akamai numbers, the average American is running on the internet at 7.4 megabits per second (Mbps). By the National Cable and Telecommunications Association's (NCTA) count, "93 percent of US households today have access to cable broadband", which, for most people, is the fastest internet they can buy.

The number one use we're making of all that broadband is, wait for it, streaming video. Sandvine, a network management company, found that real-time entertainment now accounts for 68 percent of all internet downstream traffic during peak traffic hours, 9pm and 12am. The sheer volume of overall fixed line — cable, fibre, and DSL — internet traffic has more than doubled in the last year alone.

Specifically, "Netflix continues to be the unchallenged leader for traffic, accounting for 32.3 percent of downstream traffic during peak period." Netflix's only real rival is not Hulu, Amazon, nor HBO Go, but YouTube, which now accounts for over 17.1 percent of prime-time traffic.

Armed with sufficient bandwidth, they don't want to simply time shift their TV watching; they want video on demand —and they want it now.

So while the television industry is still trying to get a handle on how to deal with internet video, the people are speaking loud and clear. Armed with sufficient bandwidth, they don't want to simply time shift their TV watching; they want video on demand (VoD) — and they want it now.

Another unintended competition from ubiquitous broadband has been that all those high-speed cable connections are now powering up high-speed wi-fi access points. So, for example, Sandvine believes that YouTube is gaining traffic not because of its new longer-form videos or streaming live events, but instead credits the continued growth of smartphone and tablet use within the home. These devices "now consume over a quarter of all streaming audio and video on fixed-access networks."

An unexpected side effect of this it is that PC and laptop sales are declining. They're falling because we're busy buying the newest, shiniest smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the ever-popular Apple iPhone, instead of PCs. Thanks to wi-fi and 4G, near-omnipresent high-speed internet access has made these devices far much more useful than their personal digital assistant (PDA) ancestors.

Besides high-speed 802.11n-powered wi-fi, 4G has also brought broadband to many urban and suburban users. RootMetrics, a mobile internet performance tester, shows AT&T and Verizon 4G topping out in the real world at about 16.45Mbps, while cable can bring many people 100Mbps speeds and fibre can bring some lucky users towering speeds of 1 gigabit per second (Gbps). However, 4G is more than fast enough for many of us who are replacing our old computers with new mobile devices.

This isn't just tablet and smartphone fanboy talk. Whether IT likes it or not, the combination of mobile devices and high-speed internet users is empowering the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement.

It's also not just smartphones and tablets that are taking advantage of all this bandwidth. Google, with its Chromebook laptops, is trying to replace PCs with what, for practical purposes, is an entirely cloud-based PC. Given that Amazon's top-selling laptop is the low-end, $249 Samsung Chromebook, it seems they're on to something.

Ubiquitous internet isn't just about taking old content, video and software, into a new high-speed networked bottle. Google's forthcoming Google Glass takes it to science fiction.

Google, which lives and dies by the internet, isn't the only one that's moving traditional PC services to the internet. Microsoft, which was born with the PC and for decades made its living from selling you boxed programs such as Microsoft Office, now wants you to put your fast internet connection to work with its newer cloud-based software such as Office 365.

Ubiquitous internet isn't just about taking old content, video and software, into a new high-speed networked bottle. Google's forthcoming Google Glass takes it to science fiction.

With Google Glass, and the copycats that will follow it, you'll always be online. Information will no longer be at your fingertips; it will be a blink away. You'll be able to, for better or worse, record and broadcast everything you see around you.

Personal computing devices will have good features — you may never be lost again — but they will also throw out every idea you ever had about privacy. We don't know yet what all this is going to mean. We didn't see in 1993 that the web would mean that online shopping would be everywhere, or that magazines and newspapers would be on their way into history's dustbin. We really don't know in 2013 what universal, always-on personal connectivity will bring us by 2033.

Just over 20 years ago, the web changed everything about how we use computers. Today, the omnipresent internet is changing everything about how we live our lives. The proverbial curse goes, "May you live in interesting times." And, indeed, that's exactly what the 21st-century internet is bringing us.

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Topics: Mobility, Broadband, Networking, Bring Your Own Device

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  • Kudos to Microsoft

    Microsoft popularized the Internet with Windows and Internet Explorer. Nearly everyone who has accessed the Internet did it first from a Windows powered computing device. Thanks to Microsoft, we don't have to pay extra for a browser. Thanks to Microsoft, you didn't have to be rich to buy a computer.

    So kudos to Microsoft for popularizing the Internet. And a big thanks as well.
    • I agree, let's praise Internet Explorer too

      Let's not forget that browsers used to cost money before Microsoft pre-installed this, this inspired the creators of rival Netscape Navigator to create the free FireFox browser.

      Microsoft is (¿ironically?) the leader in providing high-quality free software, look at Outlook.com, Microsoft SkyDrive, Bing, most of (THE FORMER-)Windows Live, M.S.N., Windows Live Messenger, Skype and many more.

      I love Microsoft and what they've done for Humanity,
      Agosto Nuñez
      • I don't love Microsoft

        I won't love anything that doesn't love me back.

        However, the quality of my life, and nearly every computer user out there, has been greatly improved thanks to Microsoft. If it weren't for Microsoft, computers would still cost thousands of dollars, only the rich and academia would be on the Internet, and Chrome would cost $19.99.

        Kudos Microsoft. Kudos and thanks.
      • Historically inaccurate.

        "Let's not forget that browsers used to cost money before Microsoft pre-installed this, this inspired the creators of rival Netscape Navigator to create the free FireFox browser."

        I'd read the Wikipedia article about Netscape Navigator, if I were you:
        http en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netscape_Navigator

        You should probably read about how MS abused its monopoly power to crush Netscape too. (And that's a matter of Law.)

        As an aside, do you really believe that I.E. is "free" (as in "zero cost")? You pay $N for your Windows licence, which includes I.E. It's not as if you received an itemized bill of sale, so who's to say that those $N doesn't include the price of I.E.?
        • Semantics?

          Since you would not be able to access the internet with ANY browser if you did not first have a working machine and OS, and since we are not talking Apple products in this topic (but the same logic applies, substituting OSx and Safari), the browser included in your $N license fee IS effectively free; you would still pay the same $N if you turned down the IE browser and said "I'll get my own." Therefore, the "other" browsers would not sell if they were offered for cash, so they are also "free" for the advertising revenue. The extent of Microsoft's former monopoly power was in not TELLING the naive customer that there were other choices, and the entanglement of IE with Windows which made it impossible for other browsers, no matter how well designed, to match EVERY feature of IE.

          This is not to praise IE, just to point out that "free" features in ANY product, even if they cost a bit more to add into each unit, sometimes really are free in the practical sense. If you buy a car, it comes with "free" tires; can you haggle the dealer down and buy the car with NO tires? In theory, that is what you do when you order the optional "high performance" tires, but then the dealer adds a markup for the optional tires, after deducting an allowance that is probably LESS than the deducted retail value of the "free" tires (maybe even $0, so you are actually paying for BOTH sets of tires).

          As a matter of full disclosure, I use Firefox primarily and it is my default browser, but of course IE is sitting there (and both Windows Update and some other product update checks preferentially invoke IE). I have noted that there is still some entanglement, primarily in the Start Menu Favorites, which are completely separate from Firefox's and other browsers' bookmarks, so I bought an application called Xmarks to keep them in sync.

          By the way, in the years since the EU required "decoupling," the process of installing a new OS (or reinstalling after a crash) has become linked with internet access, so that it is no longer possible (unless MS techs know a secret method) to install Windows on an OFFLINE machine and THEN install a browser and set up the internet connection; using the tire analogy, if you WANTED to buy a car and take it to the tire shop to add tires, you have to HAVE tires on it to drive it there! Or, of course, get it towed. So even if MS did NOT produce their own browser, they would have to include a "bootstrap" browser in the install CD just to REGISTER and APPLY UPDATES. So, despite its gigantic size, IE serves this function of a bootstrap browser for customers who prefer another one.

          If any Linux fans are reading this, I am not considering people tech savvy enough to install and maintain a Linux system.
          • Are Linux systems harder to install and maintain than are Windows systems?

            Rabid Howler Monkey
          • Depends on the distribution but...

            ...for the more popular "user-friendly" distros, the answer is no. The Linux system (for desktop PCs/laptops/notebooks) is not harder to install than Windows. In fact on the average (say, over the past 3 years or so), these Linux distros are easier to install and setup than Windows and takes approximately 1/4 of the time or less. And I've installed both Windows systems and Linux distros on plenty of PCs both desktop and mobile.

            That being said, there is the old and tired fact that Windows has been pre-installed on just about every PC sold since Windows 3.0first came out. That, plus the fact that for the past 10 years or so, every PC sold also comes with what basically amounts to a "push-button" factory restore option so it's a very rare case indeed that an end user will ever be required to install a bare-bones Windows system (meaning buy Windows 7 or 8 and install from scratch). But if it comes down to installing a OEM/single license Windows 7 or 8 against installing say, Ubuntu or Linux Mint (Fedora, Mageia, etc) the Linux based distros would be much easier to install and set up. That includes drivers, devices and applications.
          • I'd have said that you're arguing semantics.

            I can download and use Firefox for free.
            I can download and use Chrome for free.
            I cannot use IE unless I also buy a Windows licence. Period.

            "If any Linux fans are reading this, I am not considering people tech savvy enough to install and maintain a Linux system."

            Well, I personally don't consider people tech savvy enough to install a Windows system either. (Maintenance is a separate argument). This is the power that comes with preinstallation.
          • Zogg: "I cannot use IE unless I also buy a Windows licence. Period."

            Depends on what version of IE you're talking about. IE 6, 7 and 8 are still supported by Microsoft and people have had varying amounts of success running these version via Wine (note that in many cases, an older version of Wine is required):

            "Category: Main > Networking & Communication > Browsers > Internet Explorer

            One can still download IE 6, 7 and 8 for free from Microsoft as they are all still supported.

            P.S. One would be a lot safer running IE 6, 7 or 8 via Wine (or the commercial CrossOver product) on the GNU/Linux desktop than on Windows. Even with an older version of Wine, which is necessary in most cases.
            Rabid Howler Monkey
          • Zogg: "I cannot use IE unless I also buy a Windows licence. Period."

            At codeweavers.com, Internet Explorer compatibility with the current version of CrossOver, version 12.2.1, is as follows:

            o IE 6 is rated Silver
            o IE 7 is rated Bronze
            o IE 8 is Known Not to Work (you can get Bronze with some older versions of CrossOver, e.g., version 11.1.0)
            Rabid Howler Monkey
          • Seriously? Wine?

            And with IE6 and IE7, at that? Those browsers are broken and buggy when run natively, for goodness sake! And even a "Silver" rating under Wine means "we find that these applications have bugs that prevent them from running flawlessly".

            Your point is nothing but sophistry.
        • Netscape deserved their fate.

          I am old enough to remember exactly what happened. Netscape had the original monopoly on browsers. When Microsoft mentioned to the press that they might enter the browser market, Netscape brashly boasted to the media that Microsoft posed no threat whatsoever to Netscape's dominance. That statement alone made me want to switch browsers. The arrogance of that Netscape statement may also be why Microsoft decided to make IE free when they released it. It was payback for the public disrespect.
          • Deserved is neither here nor there. MS's actions were illegal.

            "The arrogance of that Netscape statement may also be why Microsoft decided to make IE free when they released it. It was payback for the public disrespect."

            I disagree with this statement anyway, but come on! Netscape hardly had a monopoly on arrogance back in the 1990s.
      • Re-writing history, are we?

        Netscape announced in its first press release (13 October 1994) that it would make Navigator available without charge to all non-commercial users, and beta versions of version 1.0 and 1.1 were indeed freely downloadable in November 1994 and March 1995, with the full version 1.0 available in December 1994.

        Netscape's initial corporate policy regarding Navigator is interesting, as it claimed that it would make Navigator freely available for non-commercial use in accordance with the notion that Internet software should be distributed for free.

        Then there is this weird statement: "Microsoft is (¿ironically?) the leader in providing high-quality free software"

        All I can say is "LOL, what are you smoking, dude?????"
      • Netscape, Skype

        You're suggesting that Netscape Navigator (in principle commercial, in practice free) was not free, and that MS developed Skype, or didn't I get your sense of humour? :)
        Dafydd Gibbon
    • Not this old lie again!

      You are recycling your sales pitch, Toddy. As I've already explained to you at great length in previous talkbacks, the Internet's popularity was snowballing *long* before MS finally managed to hitch its wagon to it.

      MS was late to the Internet party, and the Internet was massively popular already. Amazing, isn't it.
      • massively popular?


        Microsoft made the Internet massively popular.

        Like I said, nearly everyone who has accessed the Internet did so first with a Windows powered computing device.

        Kudos Microsoft. Kudos and thanks.
        • As if Netscape wasn't available for Windows!

          As if other browsers weren't available for Windows too!

          Perhaps you are simply too young to remember the 1990s? Or maybe you're just trolling again? Lie to yourself if you must.
          • Don't waste your keystrokes on Toddbottom3

            He will categorically state that MS is single-handedly is responsible for TCP/IP, Email, the Web, Browsers, long file names, multi-user computers, spreadsheets, word processing, HTML, and FTP.
      • No actually IE did that

        Before IE almost every computer user was using windows and only a small % had installed any browser at all. Navigator, mosaic, etc. were only common among the tech segment.
        Johnny Vegas