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The Future of the Internet

What's next for the Internet? The future's wide open. All kinds of exciting things are in store for the Internet. For starters, there's speed: The Internet, particularly the Web, is known for heavy traffic and slow connection speeds. Current modems and telephone lines simply aren't cutting it when it comes to accessing information. Companies are starting to utilize fiber optic lines, which greatly speed up access to data. Cable companies are also in the game of making the Internet accessible via the very same cable that connects your TV. For example, my local cable provider offers Internet access at a cost that's only slightly higher than my regular Internet service provider, and the connection is 100 times faster than a 28.8KBps modem. Not only is it fast, but you're not tying up a phone line, and access is constant and instantaneous because it's through a cable modem and cable line.

We'll be seeing new technologies that increase bandwidth and speed data. We'll also see Internet sites that cater to the higher speeds. Soon, the mid to slow (56.6KBps modems or slower) users will begin to feel left out. As the story goes with computers, the future is all about upgrading.

We're already seeing a market for pagers and cell phones that can access the Internet, view Web pages, and send and receive email. You can expect to see more gadgets with Internet-enabled devices, such as cars and kitchen appliances. How about ordering groceries from a screen on your refrigerator? Electrolux (the vacuum cleaner makers) has already developed the ScreenFridge. It's an Internet-enabled refrigerator that helps you organize your pantry as well as schedule a grocery order online.

What's Bandwidth?

Bandwidth is the range of frequencies a transmission line, such as a telephone line, or channel can carry. Telephone line bandwidth is low. Web pages that use lots of graphics are often referred to as "bandwidth hogs," which means it takes longer to download these pages onto your browser because the graphics are large and take a long time to transfer.

The Web is expected to continue to grow at a rapid rate (see Figure 3.1). Very few people suspected that the Web would become as popular as it has. Some estimate it's growing by two million pages a day, and as many as 4,400 Web sites are added daily. In 1999, experts estimated there were 3.6 million Web sites. The number continues to climb at a phenomenal pace. You can expect to see an explosion of e-commerce and e-banking. Businesses will videoconference and collaborate online as never before. Online shopping will continue to grow. Some estimate that 70 percent of Internet users have shopped online. That percentile is expected to increase.

Figure 3.2 According to statistics from The Standard (a company that tracks Internet commerce), there will be more Web pages than people by 2002.

The future of the Internet is already in the works. Back in 1996, the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID) began an experimental network formed by universities, corporations, and government agencies. Called Internet2, this network is a collection of networks utilizing high-speed fiber optics. The next phase of the project went online in February, 1999. Scientists, engineers, and researchers can transmit data over the network at speeds of up to 2.4 gigabits per second. Yowsa! That's 45,000 times faster than my 56.6KBps modem!

Just think of the potential: interactive television, 3-D conferencing, and so much more. And get a load of this: NASA has developed a very cool Virtual Collaborative Clinic that connects hospitals and other medical facilities. Using the virtual clinic, doctors can confer, diagnose, and even simulate surgery. This environment can give surgeons opportunities to practice procedures and access skills that were previously available only in large medical facilities. What does NASA have to do with medicine? Astronauts need doctors and health care, too—especially when they're millions of space miles away from the nearest hospital.

As you can begin to see, the future of the Internet is bright and bountiful. It's going to offer much more for your children, so train them well and help them in their quest to make use of it.

The Least You Need to Know

For most of us, the Internet burst onto the scene soon after the advent of personal computers. With it came new technologies and new responsibilities. Here are a few tidbits to know about this growing phenomenon:

The Internet began as an experiment by the U.S. Department of Defense to establish a reliable network for communication and data exchange.

The Web is a subset of the Internet; however, it happens to be the most popular section of the Internet.

The Web is based on pages written in HTML protocol, a system by which documents are linked.

The invention of the Web browser, a special program for viewing Web pages, made the Web popular for the masses.

The Internet is a network of connected computers and networks—an "inter-network."

No one is in charge of the Internet.

The United States government has made several attempts to pass laws to protect children online, the first being the Communications Decency Act.

The Children's Online Protection Act is the second attempt to regulate online pornography as it applies to minors. It's currently being contested in the court system.

The future of the Internet will include faster high-speed connections, more Internet-enabled gadgets, and explosions in online commerce.

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