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The Future of the Internet

As noted above, the trend in the telecommunications industry is toward convergence, as voice, video, and data are increasingly using the Internet Protocol and thus the Internet. Many of the next generation of communications devices including cellular telephones and fax machines are likely to be Internet enabled. Two factors are influencing this general trend toward convergence: the development of "always-on" Internet services and the development of "Internet on a chip" technologies.

A number of the more recent types of Internet connectivity to the home do not use dial-up modems, which users must purposefully activate when they want to have Internet connectivity. Instead, they are always connected, allowing access to or from the home at any time. This constant connectivity means that devices such as an electric power meter inside the home can be reached by the power company over the Internet whenever the power company would like to read the meter. It also means that systems can be developed that could instantly reach Internet-based servers when a user asked for information. One example used in a recent demonstration was a microwave oven that could retrieve recipes over the Internet at the touch of a button. An additional feature of these new always-on types of connectivity is that they are very high speed and thus capable of enabling widespread deployment of new download-on-demand applications, such as music players that allow the user to select from an almost unlimited menu of selections. The player would then retrieve a file of the music for playing. The advent of constantly available high-speed connectivity will go a long way toward reducing and ultimately eliminating the technological barriers to the easy downloading of digital music and video files.

This always-on capability will be well matched to the Internet-on-a-chip technology for which a number of companies are starting to put Internet Protocol software in integrated circuits. These chips are for use not only in appliances and utility meters but also in alarm systems and small appliances such as air conditioners.

At this writing it seems inevitable that in the future the Internet will become the common communications sinew that will tie our world more tightly together than it has ever been.7 Although the rate of growth may slow in the United States, because of the relatively high penetration of households with some kind of Internet access, expansion in the worldwide use of the Internet seems likely to continue at a high rate.

7A CSTB report from the Committee on the Internet in the Evolving Information Infrastructure, currently in preparation, discusses the future of the Internet in detail.

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