Internet could be overloaded by end of decade

Increasing use of the Internet could overload the current capacity and lead to brownouts by the end of the decade unless backbone providers invest billions of dollars in new infrastructure, a new study has determined.

Video and other high bandwidth Web content could overwhelm the Internet by 2010 unless backbone providers invest up to $137 billion in new capacity, more than double what service providers plan to invest, according to Nemertes Research Group, an independent analysis firm.

The 70-page study, the first to assess Internet infrastructure and model current/projected traffic patterns independent of one another, is called “The Internet Singularity, Delayed: Why Limits in Internet Capacity Will Stifle Innovation on the Web.”

The financial investment required to bridge the gap between demand and capacity ranges from $42 billion to $55 billion in the United States, primarily to be spent on broadband access capacity. This is roughly 60 percent to 70 percent above the $72 billion service providers are already planning to invest. Required investment globally is estimated at $137 billion, again primarily in broadband access.

“We must take the necessary steps to build out network capacity or potentially face Internet gridlock that could wreak havoc on Internet services,” said Larry Irving, co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance. “It’s important to note that even if we make the investment necessary between now and 2010, we still might not be prepared for the next killer application or new Internet-dependent business like Google or YouTube.”

Voice and bandwidth-intensive applications such as streaming and interactive video, peer-to-peer file transfer and music downloads and file sharing are redefining the Internet, Nemertes said. Nearly 75 percent of U.S. Internet users watched an average of 158 minutes of online video in May and viewed more than 8.3 billion video streams, according to research by comScore.

The Internet consists of a series of privately built and owned interconnected networks. Like the physical transportation system, which includes freeways as well as country roads, the Internet consists of high-speed connections (fiber and underground cable) and lower-speed links (copper and coaxial connections), with traffic handled by switching equipment, the researchers said.

As with the physical transportation system, an Internet user’s experience is defined by both the capacity of the high-speed connections (the core) and the lower-speed links. If the freeway is empty, but local roads are congested, users will spend most of their time stuck in traffic at the edges — something the study predicts will occur with increasing frequency starting in 2010.

For more information on the study, visit