Broadband has already made some tangible changes to the way that people live their lives, but the future always holds even greater levels of change. With a new decade here, it seems like a fair time to predict just how broadband will change the lives of consumers before 2020 arrives.
Reason #1: IPTV Will Change the Game
The old way of simply watching television seems to be a thing of the past, and it would seem safe to say that IPTV or some evolution of the television over IP concept will be the de facto standard well before 2020. Current IPTV solutions from major industry titans such as AT&T and Verizon compete with independent organizations such as Joost and ITV. The entire broadcasting paradigm may be thrown out the window in favor of something new, something interactive and customizable. Custom news crawlers along the bottom of a screen while social network feeds border on the side of a HD/3D broadcast is just a single example of the direction IPTV might be heading in.
Most of these capabilities are already present in some form via services such as AT&T’s U-verse digital television service and Verizon’s FiOS digital television service. The next decade is likely to see a continued emphasis on standardizing ways that content can be delivered from a number of sources, and how the television can be used interactively. By 2020, people will not ‘watch’ TV but experience IPTV.
Reason #2: Mobility
WiMAX, 4G and whatever standards they evolve into and/or end up competing with, one thing is clear: the twenty-teens are almost certain to be defined in a very large way by mobile broadband devices and applications. The 2010 CES trade show ushered in a new generation of mobile processors that are capable of providing the performance required to power apps that will push the limits of current mobile broadband technology while consuming power equal to or less than that of their slower predecessors.
The next decade is likely to see mobile broadband that is more reliable while being faster, and the devices that people will want to have in order to use mobile broadband services. Mobile broadband seems as if it is poised to take off, but it is really a chicken or the egg problem; will consumers buy enough mobile broadband products to justify networks investing more in their wireless broadband infrastructure or will that investment be necessary to make mobile devices attractive enough to attract a broad enough portion of the populace? With such devices here or on the horizon, it seems that the first route will be the one taken in most cases, but the bottom line is that the future of wireless/mobile broadband seems to be bright indeed. It is almost inevitable that devices big and small will be connected both to local area networks via WiFi but also to the Internet via wireless broadband by 2010.
Reason #3: Fiber to the People!
Fiber optics are clearly the future of broadband, though there is also an argument to be made for wireless services. Whether one puts their faith in fiber or wireless, the end would seem neigh for metal wires carrying data. DSL and coaxial networks around the country have enjoyed a great broadband rivalry as well as competing in other fields, such as digital cable and telephone services, but those days may be coming to an end in the next decade. The consumers have undoubtedly been the major beneficiaries of this conflict, receiving great deals on amazing services, but metal wires can only carry this price/service war so far.
Networks comprised completely of fiber optics are easier to upgrade and have far fewer physical limitations. As a result, when metal wires hit performance walls that are a product of physics, fiber optics will be the logical alternative. This particular limitation is already approaching rapidly, and should be readily apparent to the masses by the end of the decade.
Reason #4: Phones Go Digital/VoIP Reigns Supreme
Part of the inevitable transition to fiber optics will leave network owners with massive infrastructure investments that need to be utilized in new ways. Digital telephone service stands out as an amazing way to continue using these networks that companies that have spent countless billions of dollars building and maintaining extensive coast-to-coast networks. At the same time, new features may raise the bar as a result of broadband moving off of the aging PSTN (Public Swtiched Telephone Network).
VoIP services have many perks to offer consumers as well, such as incredibly low long-distance and international calling rates. Some VoIP services also offer video-calling, a feature notorious for always being on the horizon but never quite making it into the mainstream feature-set. Whether or not video-calling makes it mainstream in the next decade is anyone’s guess, but other features such as the ability to record, or put callers on hold could become common place. VoIP phones put a great deal of options in the hands of both the service providers as well as companies that design and build compatible phones. Current digital telephone services tend to use traditional analog phones and a converter, but this may fall by the wayside if vendors can only come up with a few appealing features that necessitate a completely digital solution.
Reason #5: Web-Based Backups Become Mainstream
Individuals, families, businesses, government entities, and organizations have relied too long on local backup solutions. Tape drives, external hard drives, and a myriad of specialty disk formats have come and gone in and out of favor over the past few decades, but the ultra-fast broadband of the next decade offers the promise of backups over the Internet. There are already a handful of companies offering such services, and as broadband penetration increases and performance continues to scale, it seems likely that ‘net-based backups will become mainstream.
The major benefit of web-based backups is never having to worry about a single event wiping out the records of an office or family. Natural disasters, acts of terrorism, feats of nearly-terminal stupidity, fits of anger, theft, or a hundred other things could completely destroy important data and possibly an on-site backup. Off-site backups are possible, but expensive and still require someone willing to ferry data around from point A to point B as well return the storage medium. Web-based backup solutions alleviate these concerns, and can be seamlessly upgraded in a way that is transparent to the end user, not dissimilar to how Yahoo!, Hotmail and Gmail have all added storage without any need for their users to change hardware or software. No physical backup can make that claim with a straight face.
Reason #6: The Web Goes Video
This is almost a near certainty, especially as 2010 already seems as if it will be a banner year for video-based web content. In fact, a number of sites have slowly started adopting video as their de facto format, and it seems that a critical mass has nearly been reached. It would be amazing if 2010 finished without video-based content being the ‘norm’ and print being old hat. If the web-content of today killed print, will the web content of tomorrow kill broadcast journalism? An answer to this question might be looming by 2020.
Reason #7: Never Leave Home
Shopping online has simply exploded over the past few years, and broadband adoption has led more vendors to start taking orders online, and it is now possible to handle almost any shopping list without leaving the home. This can be especially important for those that cannot go outside for whatever reason (illness, impairment, inclement weather, and so on) as well as those that just enjoy being able to shop on their own terms. Of course, high-speed access is not necessarily required for online shopping, though it certainly helps out, especially when it comes to product research. What broadband does make possible is the digital delivery of games, movies, television shows.
The next decade could very well bring additional services to many over broadband connections. Need to talk to a nurse or medical professional? TVs with built in web cams are already here, and PCs are inexpensive. Want to attend a Yoga class in LA, but live in Chicago? No worries…people are doing that already. The bottom line is that connection people, especially professionals, with far-flung clients is going to be possible with broadband over the next decade. Psychologists, lawyers, fitness gurus, health gurus, personal coaches, and physicians are just the tip of the iceberg. It may be possible for many people to not have to leave their homes at all in the next decade, even for work.
Reason #8: More Predictions Forthcoming
The best thing about broadband is that it is just getting started. At just over a decade old (as far as consumers are concerned), there is plenty of room for growth. New Years Eve 2020 is likely to see a whole slew of posts about how broadband will change before 2030. It would be great if none of the items on this list will were left unaccomplished over the next decade, but instead an entire roster of new improvements that will be waiting to demonstrate just how important broadband continues to be.