Experts are expressing concern that the internet could be hovering on the brink of collapse, close to a “capacity crunch,” due to inability of existing communications infrastructure to keep up with the ever-increasing demanded for faster data delivery. UK experts have expressed fears that the internet could reach its limit in just eight years and use up all of Britain’s power supply by 2035.
According to experts, global communications networks “face a potentially disastrous ‘capacity crunch'” in the next few years.
The increase in demand for faster data in the last decade and the emergence of internet television and streaming services have stretched the capacity of the existing infrastructure of cable and optical fibers used to transmit data to computers and mobile devises to their limit. This could lead to a “capacity crunch” that grounds the internet in only eight years.
The quickest solution in technical terms is to simply lay down additional cables. But this is not an attractive fix for the market because it will increase costs significantly, according to Professor Ellis of Birmingham’s Aston University.
Ellis told the Daily Mail that if it becomes necessary to lay extra cables, internet users could find themselves paying double or otherwise forced to bear the inconvenience of data rationing.
“If you put down a second line, it doubles the cost… I think a conversation is needed with the British public as to whether or not they are prepared to switch that business model in exchange for more capacity. Are we prepared to pay more? Or should we stop expanding capacity and put up with Netflix juddering?”
The internet has been able to avoid a “capacity crunch” in the past years only because increase in capacity has managed to outstrip increasing demand, with capacity having increased by about 50-fold in the last 10 years alone. To meet the demand for faster data, engineers have simply forced more and more data through existing optical fiber infrastructure. But because they have a physical limit, we cannot continue sending more data through a single optic fiber indefinitely.
“We are starting to reach the point in the research lab where we can’t get any more data into a single optical fiber… Demand is increasingly catching up… Unless we come forward with really radical ideas, we are going to see costs dramatically increase.”
Experts also warn that the challenge is not only in the area of capacity but also in the area of power consumption. Transferring data consumes energy, and if the rate of increase in demand for data persists in the next two decades, all of the U.K’s power supply could go to supporting the internet alone.
Developed countries such as the U.K. are already using up to 16 percent of all power for the internet, and the rate could increase two-fold every four years.
To brainstorm on how to avert the looming internet crisis, leading experts in the U.K. will hold a meeting at London’s Royal Society on May 11. A spokesperson for the Royal Society explained that the meeting was convened to bring experts together to discuss how to avert the looming “internet crisis.”
“This meeting brings together experts to discuss why we’re heading towards a capacity crunch, what can be done to avert it, and the impact if we do nothing: data rationing, the end of net neutrality and rising costs for going online.”
But Andrew Lord, who heads BT’s optical research unit, says he is confident that scientists will find a way to avert the feared “capacity crunch.”
He said, “The internet is not about to collapse. It has a lot of bandwidth left in it.”
He has suggested that the looming “capacity crunch” could be averted by storing information in large “server farms” that help to relieve the network of excess burden.
According to a spokesperson, BT is involved in research with universities to find solutions.
[Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons/The U.S. Army]