The Internet is here to stay – from small beginnings to India’s journey into the digital future

As we celebrate International Internet Day this year, it’s worth taking a moment to think about what a revolutionary technology it has become. The Internet we know today would not have been possible even a couple of decades ago. That’s because bandwidth has been constantly growing – in a push and pull between need and potential – for as long as the Internet has been a medium for private and commercial communication. It has always been hard to say what drives what. When larger bandwidths become available, very quickly new applications emerge that exploit it. But existing applications that are underperforming because of a lack of bandwidth also drive the growth of bandwidth (e.g. online video). And as applications become more bandwidth-hungry, new solutions are being implemented – with the rollout of fiber and mobile technologies like 5G in cities, and LEO satellite connectivity to connect off-grid locations – to bring more of India online in an acceptable quality for modern use-cases.

Because what began as a scientific curiosity more than a quarter of a century ago is now an essential part of life: the Internet, we can be sure, is here to stay. In the past two years, it has helped people and businesses get through one of the most significant global crises of recent history. The Covid-19 pandemic gave further impetus to innovation and digital transformation, everywhere. Companies and organisations are now being challenged to digitalise in order to keep up with this accelerated speed of development, and the expectations of increasingly tech-savvy users.

No slowdown in sight – digital transformation continues at pace

The past two years have resulted in unprecedented growth in digital participation, worldwide. In 2020, DE-CIX recorded more data traffic across its Internet Exchanges (IX) worldwide than ever before seen: In total, 32 exabytes – roughly the same amount of data required for an eight-million-year-long video call. Looking at DE-CIX India, at the beginning of the first lockdown, the IX experienced growth in data traffic of more than 20% practically overnight. It was clear to see what people were using the Internet for: traffic from the use of collaboration tools increased immensely, while video streaming grew by 120%, and gaming by more than 80%. After this enormous growth, many expected a slowdown in investment as the world began to emerge out the other end of global lockdowns. But exactly the opposite has occurred: the crisis has accelerated digital transformation for companies across the board, and digital work and entertainment is becoming a normal part of life.

So, rather than a slowdown, we see that further investments are needed and are being planned. A market survey undertaken by DE-CIX of globally-acting enterprises found that, having conquered the initial set of challenges related to working from home triggered by Covid-19, companies are now beginning the further task of integrating remote working effectively into their overall IT strategy for the long term. Close to three quarters of these enterprises (74%) plan to purchase a new service for interconnecting with the Microsoft Software as a Service cloud within the next two years for their increasingly virtual working environments. Therefore, digital transformation is continuing at pace around the world. The Internet really is here to stay.

How the Internet developed – explosive growth in performance and bandwidth

Looking back through the history of the Internet, it is clear that what we have available at any one point has always seemed so impressive at the time. In the world of Internet Exchanges (IXs), typified by the story of DE-CIX, milestones have come and gone – with connections of 100 Megabit Ethernet, 1 Gigabit Ethernet (GE), then 10 GE, and a few years later with 100 GE. Initially, such bandwidths seemed thoroughly extravagant, and then just as suddenly it’s a thing of the past. The DE-CIX India backbone was upgraded in 2020 to 320GE, and at DE-CIX Frankfurt, one of the largest IXs in the world, the backbone has recently been upgraded to 400GE – which seems huge today, but experience tells us that in another ten years we’ll look back and laugh.

To put the growth in perspective, data centers in the year 2000 were dimensioned for 500 Watts per m2 (= rack). Today, we find dimensions ranging up to 25 KW per rack. This represents 50 times the power consumption of the early Internet data centers, but with even greater growth in performance. Back then, little thought was given to energy efficiency, whereas nowadays we understand that data centers can play a major role in the development of sustainable digitalisation. Today, ensuring the greatest output per KW is fundamental to the design of the data center itself and the hardware that goes in it.

Meanwhile, back at the turn of the millennium, 2 Megabits (Mbits) of bandwidth was standard for commercial high-speed connections – and having access to one of these was hugely expensive. Today, companies are connected to the Internet with between 100 Mbits – 50 times more bandwidth – and 1 Gigabit (Gbit) – 500 times the bandwidth – or they have fiber to the building, in which case bandwidth can be much, much greater.

And large bandwidths are no longer necessarily dependent on a physical connection – with the innovations in mobile Internet (eg. 5G) and satellite Internet able to connect homes, cars, manufacturing plants and business locations wirelessly, where necessary.

Latency is the new currency for modern applications and digital business

As economic activity moves from the analog to the digital sphere, there is one thing that all modern applications have in common, and this is related to the purely physical characteristics of the speed of light. In the digital infrastructure industry, we call this “latency”. Latency has to do with reaction times – the time it takes data to be sent for processing or analysis and for a reaction to occur or a result to be visible. Latency is decisive for the time it takes for a transaction to be registered when you’re making online purchases; for getting a smooth reaction and good user experience when using applications that are hosted in the cloud; for the time between executing a maneuver in an online game and your counterpart experiencing the result. Latency is what allows you to enjoy high-definition online sports streaming in real time and reap the rewards of modern education in high-quality hybrid schooling.

And that’s only seen from the perspective of the user. From a business perspective, latency issues cost you money. Productivity related to virtual desktops, conference and video calls, and all that is entailed in working from home is dependent on high-performance interconnection. But also industrial activities like remote robotics, AI-supported research and development, and the advances in the product development of the connected car would not be conceivable without the performance, security, and resilience that comes with the lowest possible latency. So, latency in digital services and applications is truly revenue-related.

All kinds of network operators: carriers and Internet service providers (ISPs), application providers, OTTs, cloud operators, enterprises, and other organisations can access both the lowest latency and the highest resilience and security for their interconnection needs by interconnecting directly with the networks they need to share data with. BY connecting through a location that harbours a strong and vibrant digital ecosystem of diverse network types, they put themselves right on the spot, where the economy of the future is playing out.

Interconnection infrastructure that connects everything

Today we have the beginnings of an interconnection infrastructure that connects everything. In the future there will be a much more intricate mesh of data suppliers, data processors, and data users, with

1. the gapless rollout of broadband through fiber-to-the-building, metro and rural fiber networks, mobile networks, and LEO satellite networks for more far-flung regions,
2. the rollout of 5G and Wi-Fi 6, and the development of large-scale IoT projects for cities, industry, mobility, and the healthcare sector,
3. increasing levels of artificial intelligence and machine learning in the handling of data, and
4. the increasing number of points where data is collected and processed and the enormous amounts of data generated, collected, summarised, and sent somewhere to do something new with it.

In this world, interconnection will become more and more important, and the infrastructure for interconnecting networks will become the foundation of the economy and industry – as essential to India’s future life and business as power and water lines are today. Latency is the new currency for the exciting next generation of applications and services. This means that digital infrastructure will be even more important in the future, and these needs are universal in the modern world. Because the Internet is here to stay.

– By Sudhir Kunder, Country Director, DE-CIX India