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The Internet of Tomorrow

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No-one would dispute the profound impact that the Internet has had on the way we interact, learn and do business. On a seemingly daily basis, we witness advances in speed, mobility, gadgetry and applications that continue to propel us into the web of the future. In 15 short years we've come from being tethered to the wall by a crushingly slow dial-up connection to being able to access our email on a plane using a tablet. But the Internet of tomorrow has many more surprises in store. And I believe the web is going to change the world, once again.

The majority of Internet landmarks can be traced back to the Bay Area. In 1969, computers at Stanford connected to UCLA for the first time, a packet switching exchange that is often identified as the birth of the Internet. Just two years later in 1971, Ray Tomlinson was the first person to send email between two different hosts using the @ sign we know today. And while it may have been an Englishman who first proposed the World Wide Web in 1989, he did so on a NeXT computer -- designed and built in Redwood City.

I founded NETGEAR on a vision of a connected world where anyone can get online, anywhere at any time using virtually any device. We move closer to this vision becoming reality every day. We now have the flexibility to choose when we work, where we learn and how we are entertained. A variety of data bear out this point:

  • The Telework Research Institute reports that 17.2 million people work from home at least one day per week, and telecommuting overall is on the rise.
  • Distance and online learning is skyrocketing, with 40 states offering online learning at the K-12 level and 20 percent of all undergraduates (millions of students), reporting that they took at least one distance education course.
  • Whether we are watching TV or movies, playing games or banking, we are accessing the Internet with a broad array of devices and, increasingly, this is being done on the go.

The Internet is already more pervasive than ever. People can get online on the subway, on a plane and even in a park. Citywide WiFi is already a reality in 110 municipalities. And consumers no longer depend on PCs to get online. IDC predicts that by 2015, more U.S. Internet users will access the Internet through mobile devices than through PCs or other wireline devices.

2012 has already been a landmark year for the Internet, and there are still more milestones ahead. The arrival of 5G WiFi with the launch of 802.11ac connectivity is a huge leap forward in the speed with which we can access content. And in a high-definition world, ensuring we have the bandwidth to manage that content will be critical. The rollout of IPv6 and emergence of HTML5 is also going to improve the quality of the services we consume, delivering rich media and web applications even more brilliant than we have today.

The internet of tomorrow is about "more." More content and services, delivered more effectively across more devices and appliances. And tomorrow isn't that far away.

With 85 million users in North America, broadband is rapidly becoming the norm for Internet access. But by 2030, our demands will have increased so greatly that homes will need something far faster than broadband -- some are calling it "ultraband" -- just to cope. The increase in HD content, volume of devices, number of games and apps and overall sophistication of web services means we will need substantially more bandwidth for a satisfactory user experience. Interestingly, the United States has fallen behind other countries when it comes to average Internet speeds to the home. While here in the United States we typically see speeds of 5 to 10 megabits per second (Mbps), in Asia -- specifically Japan and South Korea -- they have the highest average connection speeds in the world, with rates at or above 15 Mbps. Why does this matter? It's the difference between downloading a DVD worth of content in minutes vs. hours. This becomes even more critical as the content delivery model continues to shift from cable broadcast to Internet streaming.

The volume of data consumers produce doubles every two years. In 2011 it was estimated that the world produced 1.8 zettabytes of data, an amount that would require 57.5 billion 32GB iPads to store. The explosion in online storage services like Google Drive and Apple iCloud pay testament to how much content we now create. The homes of the future will have virtually unlimited storage with a minimum capacity of one petabyte - the equivalent to 13.3 years of HD-TV video. And with our phones, TVs, homes and even our energy grid becoming "smart" and generating information, it's not just humans who have a voracious appetite for storage.

Today, when we talk about modern machines being "plugged in," we're not just talking about them being connected to an electricity source or even the Internet. That's all part of it, but machine-to-machine (M2M) technology is enabling our devices to essentially be plugged into and talk with each other. M2M allows a device, like a smart meter, to capture meaningful information and relay it through a network, like the Smart Grid. M2M has numerous applications from automatically re-ordering something you ran out of to scheduling a convenient delivery time for that item. Smart appliances of all shapes, colors and sizes are already on the rise. Even our cars are getting in on the action. New vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology allows vehicles to become "nodes" or points of communication along the network, providing us and each other with safety alerts and traffic information.

Again, it's all about "more." The Internet of tomorrow will need to be more powerful, more connected and more intuitive to drive these advances. It will be even more ingrained in our lives at school, at home, in the office or on the road.

The advances the Internet has seen and enabled during the last decade have been monumental but are nothing compared to what we're about to see. The Internet has only just begun to change the world.

Patrick Lo is the chairman, CEO and co-founder of NETGEAR