Once upon a time, in the age of dial-up, even one megabit per second was considered a fast internet speed. Today, that’s barely enough to register on an internet speed test, and the average US internet speed is now a sprightly 171 mbps — many times faster than just a few years ago. Plus, many users now have even higher-speed connections of 1 Gbps or more.
As wild as that is, it’s even more exciting to realize that the data speeds available to us are only getting faster. With technologies like fiber optic internet and 5G rapidly becoming more common, we’re headed to the moon (so to speak) on a blazing rocket of high-speed data. Find out ahead what this faster future of the internet might hold for the technologies that shape our lives.
The Future Is Now: Four Advancements That Are Already Here (Or Arriving Soon)
1. Fiber Optic Internet
Fiber optic broadband is likely the most impactful innovation for the future of internet speeds. This high-tech, high-speed internet technology has set the stage for a huge leap forward by leaving behind the electromagnetic waves of coaxial cable internet. Instead, it transmits data as ultra-fast light pulses along thin glass cable strands hundreds of miles long. The result: super-speedy, low-latency internet service.
The current biggest obstacle to fiber adoption is that its infrastructure is expensive, and that fiber to the home (FTTH) usually requires the installation of new equipment. However, over 50% of American households now have access to fiber internet, and adoption of fiber in population centers is slowly reaching critical mass.
2. 5G Expansion
Coming hot on the heels of fiber is 5G, the new cellular technology that uses ultra-short, high-frequency waves to provide incredibly fast wireless data speeds. Mobile devices like phones and tablets benefit the most from 5G, but it’s entered the world of home networking too, with 5G home internet an increasingly popular option that many ISPs offer.
Like fiber, 5G has logistical obstacles to overcome before it achieves ubiquity. The short wavelength of 5G means it requires far more transmitter towers to achieve coverage than 4G, and its waves are vulnerable to disruption from obstacles like walls and trees. Even so, wireless customers in big cities are increasingly able to enjoy 5G service in their daily lives.
3. Wi-Fi 7 and Beyond
Updates to the Wi-Fi standard are another way that wireless internet gets faster. New iterations of the standard massively expand the capabilities of our wireless networks. Wi-Fi 7 doubles the width of communication channels for faster, higher-throughput networks, as well as adding several other improvements for swifter, smarter data transfers.
To use these features, you’ll need both a router and a device that are certified for the Wi-Fi 7 standard. That said, there’s no need for most people to upgrade to Wi-Fi 7 right away — in fact, Wi-Fi 7 routers and devices are just beginning to arrive as of 2024. But it’s more or less guaranteed that Wi-Fi 7 will eventually become the new dominant standard — and in the meantime, the Wi-Fi alliance is already working on Wi-Fi 8 behind the scenes.
4. Broadband for Everybody
Forget fiber and 5G for a minute — what about the people in rural areas who still have to use dial-up connections? The digital divide is real, and it’s an increasingly serious problem for areas where broadband infrastructure isn’t cost-effective to build. Lack of internet access deters remote workers from buying homes in the area and makes starting new businesses more challenging, to name just a few problems.
Fortunately, new technologies are stepping in to fill the gap. Satellite internet has become substantially faster and more robust in the past several years as new players like Starlink enter the market. There’s also fixed wireless broadband, which broadcasts wireless internet straight into homes and businesses using fixed antennas attached to cell towers. That’s good news, because having a full range of options is critical for bringing the internet to rural areas.
How Faster Speeds Will Connect Our World
Our world is more connected than ever before — but it’s likely to get even more so. As internet speeds increase globally, we can expect to see the following trends accelerate even further:
1. New Business Models
Hot business models like on-demand services and machine learning became viable due to the evolution of the internet into high-speed broadband. The next big wave of internet technologies could produce another such boom, with faster data speeds giving entrepreneurs exciting new ways to deliver goods and services.
2. Remote Work
What started as a necessary accommodation of the pandemic era has blossomed into a new way to approach work. Video conferencing, messenger apps, and remote collaboration software are all here to stay — and their capabilities will continue to push ahead as the world continues to speed up.
3. Remote Learning and Training
New doors will also continue to open in the education sector as data speeds increase. Online education is more popular than it’s ever been, but maximizing the opportunities requires robust connections for both educators and students. With faster connections, even more educational experiences can be digitized and delivered to learners who might not be able to access them otherwise.
4. Connected Healthcare
More and more aspects of the medical field will become connected to the internet, with wearable devices providing new ways to use and collect health data. Medical professionals may be able to offer additional services through telemedicine as higher data speeds create new opportunities. The use of data management platforms will also continue expanding, creating new ways to streamline data flows and minimize the infamous complexities of healthcare data,
5. Smart Home Devices
Smart home devices are no longer new, but they’ll reap the benefits of faster internet as well. As more bandwidth becomes available to these devices, manufacturers may be able to further increase their capabilities. Home automation companies are already working to integrate advanced generative AI into their products, and high-speed internet will be necessary for the large amounts of data that these applications require.
The internet has been continuously getting faster since its inception. Today, we’re poised for another significant advancement in data speeds as fiber, 5G, and other high-performance internet technologies reach liftoff at last. We’ve talked about some notable and exciting applications for these innovations — but the most exciting of all might be the ones that haven’t even been thought of yet.