Several experts think that the Internet is approaching its capacity. The gap between access capacity and demand is increasing fast. According to a study by Nemertes Research, $137 billion need to be spent on improving the Internet infrastructure globally. The study also suggests that up to $55 billion are required to be invested in broadband access capacity in the U.S. alone – an amount which is up to 70% above what service providers are willing to spend. Otherwise, a steady slowdown would threaten the upcoming of further web-based businesses like Google, Amazon and eBay. Besides, consumers will be annoyed by the slowdown in service. Many experts blame the extensive use of video services like Youtube as well as legal and illegal downloads.
Another problem is that the Internet runs out of addresses. About 85% of all Internet addresses are already assigned. According to the OECD, in 2011 there might be none available anymore under the current protocol IPv4. Now the OECD puts pressure on governments to make the transition to IPv6 – a protocol which can meet the growing demand and which “has sufficient address capacity to give every grain of sand on the planet its own unique Internet address”.
Another point is the Internet’s enormous thirst for energy. It is estimated that the total energy usage of the Internet is higher than the energy consumption of global air-traffic. The Internet expert Kevin Kelly estimates the Internet’s energy consumption at 868 billion kilowatt hours which is about 5.3% of the world’s total electric consumption. One single search request at Google consumes the same amount of electricity as a 10-watt light bulb in half an hour. On the other hand, the Internet enables us to save energy elsewhere. Video conferences, easy data exchange and all kinds of web-based communication reduce the need to travel long distances to meet business partners as well as friends and relatives. Collaborative work is much easier due to the quick and cheap exchange of knowledge and ideas. Another aspect is that the Internet contributes a lot to today’s high level of flexibility at the workplace. The most outstanding example of the easiness of data exchange is e-mail. It’s not only quicker than old-fashioned mail but (almost) for free.
Getting back to the projected capacity shortages, it remains to be seen who’ll step into the breach and pay for the bandwidth extension to make the Internet operate conveniently for everybody in the future. To tackle this challenge won’t be easy with bandwidth-intensive applications like video-on-demand and mobile Internet access increasing, and hundreds of millions of Internet users who already have and will have access to the Internet from populous emerging countries like China and India, entering.