Fibre networks could soon hit the limit of the data they can transmit.
According Science, which has published a report from David Richardson at the University of Southampton, the amount of data currently being transmitted is over half of fibre's ultimate limit and we could soon be hitting "capacity crunch".
"The thought that the current fibre technology has infinite capacity is not true. We are beginning to hit the fundamental limits of the current technology," he told the BBC.
"We need to be looking at the next big breakthrough to allow us to continue to scale as we have traditionally done."
Richardson said fibre cables would need to be improved, for example via the way light is encoded or changes to the actual fibre.
"If you gain a factor of two in bandwidth by developing a whole new amplifier technology, that's perhaps two or three years of capacity growth. To get radical changes - to get factors of 100 or 1000 - it's going to be extremely demanding," he said.
"If you want to develop the next generation of cable, you want to be doing that 10 years in advance, not for tomorrow."
Richardson also said that changes in the way we use the internet may well deal with data limitations "very straightforwardly".
"We may all increasingly need to get used to the idea that bandwidth - just like water and energy - is a valuable commodity to be used wisely."
See also: Ofcom: BT must open up fibre network