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Analysis: The internet in 2020

We predict what the web will be like in a decade

The web is a completely different place now than it was in 2000. And it's dramatically different to what it looked like 40 years ago, when it was first invented.

The net is straining under the weight of cyberattacks, multimedia content and new mobile applications. In response, computer scientists are re-thinking every aspect of the internet's architecture, from IP addresses to routing tables to overall internet security.

There are many views about how to fix the internet's architecture, but there's widespread agreement about many aspects of the future web. Here's our list of 10 sure-fire bets for what the internet will look like in a decade.

1. More people will use the internet

Today's internet has 1.7 billion users, according to Internet World Stats. This compares with a world population of 6.7 billion people.

There's no doubt more people will have internet access by 2020. Indeed, the National Science Foundation predicts that the internet will have nearly five billion users by then. So scaling continues to be an issue for any future internet architecture.

2. The internet will be more geographically dispersed

Most of the web's growth over the next 10 years will come from developing countries.

The regions with the lowest penetration rates are Africa (6.8 percent), Asia (19.4 percent) and the Middle East (28.3 percent), according to Internet World Stats.

In contrast, North America has a penetration rate of 74.2 percent. This trend means the internet in 2020 will not only reach more remote locations around the globe but also will support more languages and non-ASCII scripts.

3. The internet will be a network of things, not computers

As more critical infrastructure gets hooked up to the internet, the web is expected to become a network of devices rather than a network of computers.

Today, the internet has around 575 million host computers, according to the CIA World Factbook 2009. But the NSF is expecting billions of sensors on buildings and bridges to be connected to the internet for such uses as electricity and security monitoring.

By 2020, it's expected that the number of net-connected sensors will be orders of magnitude larger than the number of users.

4. The internet will carry exabytes - perhaps zettabytes - of content

Researchers have coined the term 'exaflood' to refer to the rapidly increasing amount of data - particularly high-def images and video - that is being transferred over the internet.

Cisco estimates that global traffic will grow to 44exabytes per month by 2012 - more than double what it is today.

Increasingly, content providers such as Google are creating this content rather than Tier 1 ISPs. This shift is driving interest in re-architecting the internet to be a content-centric network, rather than a transport network.

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NEXT PAGE: A wireless and greener web

  1. We predict what the web will be like in a decade
  2. A wireless and greener web
  3. Will always-on be a thing of the past?


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