A look into the future: How the Internet will and must change

In the DE-CIX Annual Report 2017, DE-CIX's Head of Research & Development, Christoph Dietzel, outlined his thoughts about what the structure of the Internet will be in ten to fifteen years, which standards will shape the Internet, and how this will play out for society, our customers, and in particular for DE-CIX’s technological strategy. We present this article here in full length:

The present: Everything must be connected 

The vision statements of Fortune500 companies generally convey emotions, are colorful and loud. But increasingly, they all also want to be digital. Everything needs to be interconnected, and Artificial Intelligence is set to revolutionize our daily lives. Innovation in core competencies is no longer sufficient: In the automotive industry, connected and autonomous multimedia-cars will takes us from A to B. Nothing will work in the future without the Internet and a far-reaching understanding of IT. Particularly for the Internet, the largest system developed by humanity, the multitude of new use cases means shorter and shorter development cycles and increasing innovation. 

From the user perspective, the Internet works relatively well; sure, here and there it could do with being a bit faster, but end users will not even notice the changes that will be required in the coming years. Enabling Internet infrastructure to supply self-driving cars with 4K videos via 5G and to turn on the lights and heaters shortly before we get home demands continuous structural and technological changes. With such complexity and strong growth, it is difficult to maintain an overview of the developments.

Slow standardization processes run contrary to the pace of change

The Internet can be understood as one large network made up of around 65,000 independent sub-networks. These sub-networks are operated by diverse companies, such as Deutsche Telekom, Google, and Facebook. So that the communication between them works seamlessly, it is essential to standardize the protocols for data transfer. The majority of standardization processes occur in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Consensus is sought in standards – this encourages quality, but it also slows the standardization process and runs contrary to the fast pace required.
Technological changes have the objective of improving particular areas/aspects of the Internet. That could be, for example, new transmission technologies like 5G, which increase users’ bandwidth and transmission speed in access networks. 

Other concepts are more visionary in nature. The Internet of Things supports the interconnection of more and more machines without human interaction. New concepts for data processing, data transmission, and security must be devised and implemented. Of course, new technologies and solutions in this area continue to demand standardized protocols, which at times can turn into a protracted process. The change-over of IP addresses to a new format (IPv6) has already taken a decade and is still not finished. This example illustrates how complex it is to adapt important Internet protocols to new requirements. A present trend is the introduction of freely programmable network equipment, in contrast to the current generation in which the only thing that occurs is the configuration of a standardized protocol. This enables sub-networks in the mid-term to develop their own protocols and to deploy these within closed domains.

Hypothesis: The Internet will become less centralized

New technologies and paradigms also lead to structural changes in the Internet infrastructure. Faster and more efficient networks allow higher data rates and thus new fields of application which, for their part, make new demands. The introduction of cloud computing led to an upheaval in the strictly hierarchical and distributed Internet. Today, it is considerably more strongly centralized and interconnected. Providing sufficiently high-performance support for new fields of application – for example, Virtual Reality or Cloud Gaming – will require a more decentralized way of thinking in the future.

For large companies from all sectors, but also for small and medium-sized enterprises, Internet usage will be inverted. Only a few years ago, the main reason for connecting to the Internet was to communicate with others. In the future, the Internet will be used more and more to offer new services. Companies want to get in direct contact with customers. What will be decisive will be to position oneself in the market – in the right place at the right time – and to build up an understanding of the development of the Internet.