Does internet speed reflect technological adoption and growth?

The modern age of technological evolution is one of unprecedented momentum. While there are a variety of economic and social factors which drive growth, one of the most interesting and direct influences comes from what is offered by ever-improving internet speed. Covering a wide range of industries and organizations means that this reach is vast and ever-expanding, as technology becomes increasingly involved with everyday tasks.

Here are just a few examples of this growth, and how each has benefitted from both improved speed and connectivity.

56k Modems vs Broadband

In the early days of dial-up modems, live-streaming, as it exists today, was simply not feasible. Even the fastest end of dial-up equipment, the formerly advanced 56k modems, were not able to stream straight compressed audio files like mp3s, let alone video data. Downloading this on a 56k modem would take you nearly 213 hours, provided the user experienced no interruptions. Compare that to the 30 or fewer minutes of download time of a modern connection, and it becomes evident why streaming systems like Netflix, which actually launched in 1997, or even YouTube, which today has local versions in over 91 countries and 1.9 billion users a month, were simply impossible during the period before internet speed opened a new range of possibilities.

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On the Go

Around the turn of the new millennium, cellphone technology became smartphone technology. Not only did this increase in processing power broadens the range of possibilities, but the improving access to Wi-Fi infrastructure also meant that online connectivity could be much cheaper than ever before. Interestingly, this is still an issue today, as even though 5G means direct internet connection through smartphones is faster and data costs are lower than ever before, WiFi over the home or free systems is still by far the cheaper alternative. As for smartphones themselves, their growth has been commensurate with the increasing speed of the internet, with each stage taking advantage of this to offer better and faster experiences.

Online entertainment platforms are common examples here, with increasing speed meaning faster experiences. Simply put, the over 57 million subscribers Netflix had just in the US in 2017 according to Statista would not have spent over $27.3 billion for its content without broadband speed that allows for streaming. The same is true for other entertainment avenues, which require quality connections, considering that the player is communicating in real-time with dealers. Also, consider tool-oriented systems over mobile like Google Maps. As these use considerably less data than video or audio streaming, the increased speed given by improving mobile connectivity has effectively revolutionized many aspects of our lives. Long gone are the days of frustrating paper maps, with advanced free navigation systems removing the need for the classically frustrated co-driver.

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Preparing for AR and VR

Streaming stored videos are slightly functionally different than live-streaming from both ends. The reasons here come down to upload speeds being considerably slower than download speeds. These limitations are more due to economic factors than physical impossibilities, but the end result is the same. Actually being able to send out data from an affordable connection has slowly improved to where it is today, where live-streaming services stand as some of the most effective and widely loved forms of modern entertainment.

This also stands poised as a strong facilitator for the coming age of virtual and augmented reality. Having moved from the realm of disastrously limited efforts like the Nintendo Virtual Boy to the truly immersive experiences as illustrated by the Oculus Rift in just a couple of decades, the opportunities for live-streaming here remain ripe for exploration. Whether through live gaming, motion capture, or even casual uses like projecting distant family members into a holiday celebration, it’s again improving internet connection speeds alongside improving processing technology which has allowed massive leaps for the consumer. They might not be standard as of yet, but indications are strong that within a decade these could approach strong levels of mass-market penetration.

Moving Forward

Few evolving technologies are as outwardly illustrative of technological growth as that of the gaming industry. With each generation comes improving graphics and potentially larger experiences, which are matched by similar growths in install data requirements. More detail means more data, after all, which means that download sizes will continue to expand.

Formerly, game distribution was almost entirely limited to physical media. As internet speeds have increased and data costs have lowered, however, the industry has seen an enormous shift towards an online model. While this is true for consoles, it is the PC gaming market that is the most indicative, with modern physical stores often offering little more than a download code or installer. Steam is the most relevant case here, with many modern games available in stores only coming with a few megabyte Steam installer alongside a code. Using this then often means downloading many gigabytes of data, in a process that would not have been realistically possible in the early days of internet adoption.

Evolution Synergy

While the fact that improving internet speeds have increased the possibilities of many data-driven industries is undeniable, it’s important to also understand the relationship this shares with related processing technologies. Live-streaming high-quality video, for example, would not have been possible without computers and televisions fast enough to decode data in real-time.

The same could be said for mobile phones and games, with growth and evolution being nothing short of a two-way street. While this also means that future developments could be difficult to predict due to the unknowable developments of imaginative programmers and developers, there is no doubt that the growth of both parts of the equation will play a huge part in shaping the technological world of tomorrow.

Whether through convenience, detail, connectivity, or response time, these reflective growths are still poised to make our lives easier than our predecessors could have ever imagined.