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How Did We Get Here? The Path to Internet 4.0

As with all technologies, things evolve, and this is true with the internet itself. Consumer adoption, technology, and trends have all helped to shape how generations use the internet and set it on a course to meet the needs of our transforming culture.

Internet 1.0: Welcome Your New Overlord
Once the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) developed the internet, internet 1.0 was marked by the dominant market position of AOL, known before 1991 as Quantum Computer Services. In the early days, all you needed was a modem, a phone line (or phone), and a computer to get “online.” Steve Case, founder of AOL, saw a market opportunity to link Commodore 64 owners together so they could share code, stories, etc. In 1996, a booming 110 sites dominated the online landscape and the average speed for connecting was 36 Kbps.

FUN FACT: AOL’s famous “You’ve got mail” was first recorded in 1989 by Elwood Edwards, an American voice actor. Edward’s wife overheard Steve Case talking about wanting a voice interface to his service and volunteered her husband’s voice. Edwards went on to make voice appearances on The Simpsons, the movie You’ve Got Mail featuring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and in an episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Internet 2.0: The Rise of the Portals
AOL provided us with a glimpse of things to come and rapidly expanded services to keep its consumers engaged. Technology evolved from dial-up to DSL and even cable high speed services, which gave rise to a more graphical World Wide Web. Remember wanting 768K service?

AOL rapidly found itself with clone-like competitors looking to get in on this rapidly scaling new network. CompuServe and others started to fragment the market and it was clear multiple parties would be entering the game. The rise of the portals brought new money and players into the market in a bid to gain and retain “eyeball share.” Companies like Netscape, Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, and others developed content rich communities that sought to keep you entertained and paying!

By 2000, 43% of Americans were classified as internet users.

Internet 3.0: Apps, Clouds, and Social, Oh My!
The internet companies were no dummies. Teams of employees started to realize the scale of the impact the internet was having, and internet speeds started to increase. More speed meant more payload for content and apps. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Baidu, Alibaba, and hundreds of other companies realized that the browser was the platform and when Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, the internet got way more mobile, location aware, distributed, available…and way more important.

AJAX and other technologies combined with 4G, and very high speed consumer grade internet services (FTTX and DOCSIS 3.0) meant all previous limitations were off. Apps in browsers and smartphones meant the personal computer was no longer a necessity. But with computing resources now somewhat limited on mobile devices, more services relied on cloud-based processing and storage to enable mobility.

Internet 4.0: The Rise of the Machines
Welcome to the new age of the internet, commonly called the “Industrial Internet” or the “Industrial Internet of Things.” Analysts now predict that between six and nine billion devices will be deployed by 2020, excluding smartphones, tablets, and computers, down from the staggering 50 billion prediction. These new “dumb” devices will rely on computing resources in the cloud. But with computing processing power continuing to scale and with quantum computing seemingly just around the corner, the cloud is evolving from a centralized data center model, to a much more distributed model geared at improving performance by placing the resources needed closer to the consumer at the edge of the network.

Service providers are rapidly working to determine their own strategy for enabling this distributed model with 5G wireless services and Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) resources. MEC resources can be deployed quickly and efficiently in neighborhoods, industrial parks, and business parks, really, anywhere with access to the network and power! MEC not only contains computing resources but also the storage, software, routing and switching, and optical transmission equipment needed to improve performance and customer experiences.

Service providers are also looking to new residential initiatives, like Fiber Deep led by the cable companies, Verizon’s FiOS initiative, and Google Fiber, to further extend fiber optic assets closer to the consumer (fiber densification), again reducing latency and streamlining operations. In addition, fiber will continue to penetrate enterprise markets as digital transformation initiatives continue to drive bandwidth while firms look to improve customer experiences through personalization, improved user interfaces, increased communications, and many other factors.

So What?
No doubt that the evolution of the internet will continue. This next decade of internet 4.0 evolution will radically change how the internet is used by consumers and companies alike. It is estimated by analyst firm IHS Markit that more than 31 billion devices will be connected in 2018, so everyone involved needs to adapt…and quickly.

The winners, excluding consumers and enterprises, are the enablers of the technology all along the path. Service providers will need to change the performance characteristics of the network to enable performance improvements that will make it all possible. Augmented reality, virtual reality, the tactile internet, connected cars, industrial automation, and so much more will rely on seamless network availability and ultra low latency services.

The losers will be those with their heads in the sand. Anyone who thinks this is business as usual or just a fad is in for a big surprise. Looking back on internet 1.0-3.0 I am sure we can find endless examples of companies failing to see the bigger picture and how their worlds were about to implode. Just ask any newspaper publisher.

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