There are about 14.4 billion devices hooked up to the Internet today. Roughly speaking, that's about twice the population of the world. CISCO data predicts this number will almost double over the next three years, and by 2020 there will be more than 6 devices per human on the planet.
These statistics are hard to appreciate and conceptualize, but suffice to say that the Internet is in its exponential stage of growth — and along with an explosion of connected devices comes an explosion of traffic.
"The number of devices in the home has swelled and will continue to do so," said Stephane Bourque, the founder and CEO of Incognito Software, "these are thermostats, smart TVs or anything that needs an IP address." In fact, there are so many new devices that we've had to come up with a new breed of IP addresses because we've nearly exhausted the old ones.
"The cable industry seems to welcome challenge"
The expanding demand for bandwidth, however, won't be equal across Internet users (some may be eager to connect every aspect of their home, others will take longer to adopt new technologies) and nor will it be easy to anticipate. So the challenge is this: How's an ISP to make sure its network is ready for the coming wave of Internet traffic?
Bourque says his company has a solution. Incognito Software's algorithms analyze previous trends of Internet traffic growth across the physical Internet to determine where most of it is coming from — which cities, which neighborhoods and which streets.
Using this historical data allows Bourque to indicate which parts of the network will need upgrading and when. This information empowers ISPs and cable companies to make strategic decisions, ensuring that upgrades are made where there's a risk of congestion and that these upgrades are maximized.
Is it too late to make the upgrades needed to satisfy our incessant need for bandwidth? Bourque says not, pointing to the cable industry's track record— after all, the Internet has been expanding since it was born and yet download speeds have continued to increase at equally impressive rates. "The cable industry seems to welcome challenge in way that others like wireless carriers don't. It tends to do what's needed," said Bourque.
"DOCSIS 3.1 will be a great help"
There are a number of practical things that ISPs can do now to ensure the Internet continues to get faster, as we users have become accustomed to. "DOCSIS 3.1 will be a great help," said Bourque. This NASA inspired technology is the next generation of an industry standard called Data Over Cable Service Interface Specifications (DOCSIS ®)- newly rebranded as "Gigasphere."
Gigasphere modems will probably be in your home by 2015 and the DOCSIS 3.1 network will be operational the following year. Since 1996, more than $200 billion has been spent to upgrade the Internet's infrastructure and roll out residential broadband service to American households and lay down more than 600,000 miles of fiber optic cable.
"Providers need to be armed with the tools to predict and invest smartly," said Bourque, adding that companies like Incognito Software are doing just that. He adds a word of caution that there's no room for complacency if we're to meet the needs of tomorrow's TV-heavy Internet. "Thank God there's almost no 4K content right now- that would be tough for us to handle."