Imagining the Internet (9): takeoff technologies

A great question for science fiction writers.

Q.9 – Are the next takeoff technologies evident now?

A. The hot gadgets and applications that will capture the imagination of users in 2020 are pretty evident today and will not take many of today’s savviest innovators by surprise.

B. The hot gadgets and applications that will capture the imagination of users in 2020 will often come “out of the blue” and not have been anticipated by many of today’s savviest innovators.

[my answer: A]

Please explain your choice and share your view of its implications for the future. What do you think will be the hot gadgets, applications, technology tools in 2020?


“Some of 2020’s hot new gadgets are bound to come out of the blue. But for North Americans, I think the Next Big Thing will be an exponential jump in a well-known commodity: bandwidth. Residential bandwidth scarcity in both Canada and the US has held back the availability of immersive environments for personal messaging and multi-player online gaming, not to mention telemedicine, telecommuting, real hi-def entertainment and distance learning. Most of us are still stuck with a single-digit Mbit/s connection; highly asymmetric downlink/uplink architectures; high prices; and very few choices in service provider. If we can get, say, 30% of North American homes on a last mile of 50 megs down and 20 megs up by 2020, we’ll experience a sea-change in our online lives. This development will become especially important as more and more devices become networked, up to and including our kitchen appliances.

“What about wireless? The current consensus is that mobile broadband is set to grow dramatically in terms of speeds, smarter end-user devices and novel applications. A few weeks ago, Canada caught up to the rest of the wireless world when TELUS launched its HSPA network. Progress is also being made on the new IEEE 802.22 platform, which will wring even more functionality out of beachfront spectrum. And of course the iPhone has finally put a real computer in the palm of our hands. Nevertheless, wireless networks have to operate with several structural constraints that don’t affect wireline. Chief among these are form-factor size, line of sight, network loads and battles over the allocation of spectrum. That makes wireline a much more fertile space for innovation over the next decade.”


Jan.13 – I suspect lots of respondents will be on the other side of my views about wireline vs wireless as seedbeds for innovative high-bandwidth applications. One distinction I could have made was that between handheld wireless devices and imbedded wireless devices – like tiny wearable processors in all your shirt buttons. That at least eliminates issues related to form-factor, such as how small a screen can get before most people (even Millennials) will stop watching video.

I also left out gatekeeping. One puzzle for the cellular market in Canada and the US is how much longer the carriers will be able to exercise control over applications and handset functionality. If you thought our savior was going to be Google’s no-evil, open-source approach to life in the ether, think again. Nate Anderson has a scary post at Ars Technica about the just-released Nexus One and the “dangerous fees” that lie ahead for some users. Google has an early termination fee (ETF) that is combined with T-Mobile’s ETF, such that some subs when cancelling may pay $550 – in addition to the $179 paid for the phone itself! That means Google is party to an arrangement under which you would be paying cancellation fees more expensive than the unsubsidized device itself.

Why does this matter? Because if carriers and handset vendors keep this up, it will discourage innovation – if only because fewer consumers will adopt hot new technologies, just to avoid getting screwed. Et tu, Brute?

One thought on “Imagining the Internet (9): takeoff technologies

  1. I would also have to agree with response A. In addition (though it is somewhat obvious), processing power should be considered akin & symbiotic to increases in bandwidth in determining ‘the next big thing.’ According to Moore’s law this should take no one by surprise. While the manifestation of 10 years of advanced computing power in terms of applications can be difficult to picture now, the impact is clear in looking back 10 years.
    This experience will be as significant as the differences in playing modern video games compared to games of the 80’s/90’s. Markers of 2020’s computer (and online) experiences will be improved speed, aesthetics, ‘dimensions’, interactivity/intricacy, and above all will warrant a higher level of immersion of users.

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