Are we approaching ‘Steady State?’

For as long as I’ve been involved with the internet, it’s been a truism that speeds are always increasing. This has created the current eco-system where we are now locked into a seemingly perpetual upgrade cycle of increasing processor speeds, increased storage capacity and finally increased bandwidth all wrapped up in a shiny device on a 24 month contract.

I know I try and make laptops last 4-5 years and I also try and get 3-4 years out of my phones. This cycle is showing signs of slowing down, it’s getting really hard to tell the difference between a 1.8Ghz quad core processor and a 2.4Ghz one, the cloud is making local storage a moot point in a world of $100 1TB USB hard drives and now you can even get a 512GB SD card .

So that leaves bandwidth as the last great driver of the upgrade cycle, mobile devices are going to take us through 2 more cycles, full 4G, that is devices that include the recently auctioned 700Mhz spectrum bands and then in about 8-10 years time we’ll get 5G and the promise of up to 1Gb/s in our hands.

Most of our other technologies have already passed this point:

  • Fibre Optics – The record is currently 42Tb/s
  • Ethernet – 100Gb/s is commercially available
  • GPON – 10GPON is available (the UFB is based on 1GPON
  • WiFi – 3.2Gb/s WiFi routers are already available in NZ
  • Point to point wireless – 1Gb/s equipment is available today

So the final bottleneck is mobile broadband and 5G should get there around 2022 – 2024

But then what happens? It’s going to be hard to maintain the full blown ‘hype cycle’ on details like battery life and screen density when everything else will be as fast as we’re going to need for quite a long time.

And thats the point where I wonder if we’ll hit the steady state of bandwidth, this magical point will hopefully usher in an age of efficiency in applications and services. Current business models are driven by the assumption that bandwidth is scarce and expensive, but when it becomes ubiquitous we’ll need new business models.

The steady state has occurred in other industries like electricity (240 volts AC @ 60Hz) and gets enforced in others like fuel octane ratings and highway speed limits. Once the steady state occurs the full economic benefit of the emerging technology can truly manifest themselves.

Reliable, reticulated electricity has for the last 100 years allowed our civilisation to deliver more comfort, health and wealth to more people than any preceding time in human history, what impact will reliable ubiquitous bandwidth have on the next 100 years?


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