All good things come to an end. The internet may be the next to fall to this inexorable law. Experts are now warning that ‘capacity crunch’ may bring this information superhighway to a dead end within eight years. This is because there is just so much data optical fibres can carry. It is these optical fibres that relay a constant stream of texts, voices and moving images to our laptops, tablets and smartphones. Technologists have succeeded in increasing this capacity by about 50-fold in the last ten years alone. If in 2005, broadband internet had a maximum speed of 2 megabits per second, nowadays 100 Mb per second download speeds have become common. But with computers getting more and more powerful and with the boom in internet television and streaming services, technologists are reaching a saturation point where they simply cannot force any more data into an optical fibre to meet the demand for ever faster data. This physical limit of optical fibres cannot be pushed indefinitely, just as copper wires reached their limit in an earlier generation. To get around this problem, internet companies can lay down additiol optical fibre cables but that will raise costs manifold which users will have to bear.
Then there is the equally serious issue of power consumption. Very few users realise how much power they use up when they are ‘on the Net’. Experts in UK have estimated that around 16 per cent of the power generated there is being consumed through internet use presently, and this amount is doubling every four years. At this rate, all of Britain’s power supply could be consumed by internet use after just 20 years! How will that country find the additiol power to cope with the higher demands of Netizens? What is true for UK will be true for other countries as well. Users may well be staring at two prospects equally undesirable — pay far more for internet use than they are doing now, or accept an internet that switches on and off intermittently to ration data transaction. This emerging crisis is coming on top of the looming threat to the ‘neutrality’ of Internet, making it impossible for users to access all websites and Net-based services equally. Telecom companies are determined to bring this about by becoming gatekeepers in the internet, ensuring faster access to sites that pay and making certain web-based applications costlier. To avert the looming crisis to the internet on all these fronts, leading IT experts in the UK and other countries are set to begin a long series of brainstorming meets from this month onwards.
Of course, many technologists are confident that ways and means will surely be found to avert this crisis. Some of them have pointed out that the internet still has a ‘lot of bandwith left’, others are advocating setting up vast ‘server farms’ to help relieve the internet of excess burden. Cutting edge researches in some leading universities and laboratories around the world are expected to provide breakthroughs soon. Already a joint team of Dutch and US scientists has reported exciting developments, fabricating a cable that is an astounding 2,550 times faster than the fastest single optical-fiber links in commercial operation today. The work is being carried out at Eindhoven University of Technology and University of Central Florida, with researchers claiming that their new type of multi-mode optical fibre will expand the bandwidth of internet 21 times than currently available in communication networks. Such is the cable speed that a 1 GB movie can be downloaded in 31 thousandths of a second. If standard internet speeds are 4-8 terabits per second currently, then this new network with speed 255 terabits per second could transport the entire present internet on a single cable! So even as we ponder over the problems and limitations of internet use, so ubiquitous in twenty-first century lifestyle, there are reasons to be positive and hopeful. Like Mark Twain who reacted to his premature obituary with the words: ‘The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated’— we too can safely say that news about imminent demise of the internet may yet prove to be premature.