The Internet: yesterday, today and tomorrow

Believe it or not, the Internet has been around since the 1960s. It began with the visionary idea to create a network of connected computers to share educational and military information, and for decades it was used almost exclusively by engineers, scientists and librarians – in other words, geeks like me!

The Internet as non-geeks know it was born in the early 1990s (believe me, if you had an email address in the 1980s you were technically advanced) when we saw creation of the world’s first website and the rise of dial-up Internet service providers. We all remember the unmistakable sound of a dial-up modem connecting us to the Internet. Back then, as we monopolized our household phone line, we were most likely checking our email or slowly but surely “surfing the web.” I still remember the joys of the 1 Mbps modem, which delivered ground-breaking speeds at the time.

Then along came DSL and cable modems in the late 1990s; network speeds increased as did our connection to the Internet. A decade later, services like iTunes, YouTube and Netflix revolutionized how we accessed music and video content, and social network sites like Myspace and “The” Facebook gave us entirely new ways to connect with our friends. As a society, we were glued to our computers…but then suddenly a mobile phone morphed into a smartphone and changed everything! All of the sudden we could take the Internet with us everywhere we went. Today, fast reliable wireless connectivity is so pervasive that the Internet has become an inextricable part of our daily lives. We can store an almost infinite number of photos, songs and videos in “the cloud” and we want to access our info on any device, anytime, anywhere. From entertainment to education to shopping to healthcare, digital connectivity has become the glue that holds together every aspect of our life.

The Internet has transitioned through multiple iterations: email, websites, entertainment and mobile applications. So what’s next? We are now entering an age of convenience, where everything is connected through the Internet. This hyperconnected society will transform almost every aspect of our lives. In healthcare for example, rather than grappling with disparate systems and paper files, envision a scenario where your doctor, pharmacy and insurance company are all seamlessly working off the same electronic health record, and furthermore authenticate who you are through your smartphone. ID cards will soon be a thing of the past as we see the emergence of personalization and digital identity services.

In the coming years, it won’t just be people connecting to the Internet; billions of chips, sensors, implants and devices will be connected as well, a technology phenomenon known as the Internet of Things (or IoT for short). Real-time data analytics will process massive amounts of “Big Data” to give us access to information that enables smarter, better and faster decision making. Our personal lives will be transformed by connected cars, intelligent household appliances and remote health solutions. Imagine an alarm clock that adjusts to traffic conditions or train schedules, or a wireless sensor that monitors your vital signs and can alert you to an impending heart attack. Our cities will become smarter, greener and safer with innovations like traffic lights that adjust with traffic flow, garbage cans that send alerts to be picked up only when they are full and bridges that report their structural health in real time.

Today, we’re reliant on the Internet for much more than communications and entertainment; our personal lives and business processes have become dependent on it. With the Internet playing such a crucial role in our lives, it’s no longer bandwidth or mobility that’s most important, it’s reliability. That’s why we’re investing billions of dollars in next-generation networks that provide you with the connectivity you need now, and well into the future.

With network speeds increasing exponentially, technological limitations fading and billions of connected devices with the power to transform our society on the horizon, the impact the Internet will have on our lives in the future is limited only by the imagination.

From connected computers to a connected society; we’ve come a long way from the days of dial up.