If you asked most Americans in 1985 whether they had any use for a personal computer with a modem and a hard drive, you would have met with a lot of laughter and blank stares. Ask them today whether they want a gigabit Internet connection, a terabyte of storage and a teraflop processor, and the responses would be the same.
Why would anyone need a gigabit connection to the Internet? That’s 1,000 megabits per second. And most people who have high-speed Internet are pretty happy with the 1- to 10-megabit connection they already have. The same goes for hard drives and computer processors. Who could use a terabyte of storage space? That’s 1,000 gigabytes. A teraflop graphics processor? That's 1 trillion calculations per second. Do we need to turn our homes into supercomputer centers?
Engineers and industry observers say the answer is yes: We will need bigger, better and faster technology. New services and applications will emerge to use up the massive capacity and ultrafast technologies appearing on the horizon. And those innovations soon will become as indispensable as computers and the Internet are now to most of us today.
In the technology revolution, hardware leads the way. It creates the potential. Then creative software and services realize that potential. A network built by University of California at San Diego and other universities moves data at 10 gigabits a second. Hard drives holding 500 megabytes, or half a terabyte, are now widely available. The first version of Wi-Fi, 802.11b, had a maximum speed of 11 megabits per second. It soon was replaced by Wi-Fi versions G and A, each capable of transmitting 54 megabits per second. Today, the emerging Wi-Fi N is capable of transmitting more than 100 megabits per second.
Today, 100 megabytes per second will provide a household with TV programming and Internet, but a number of factors will push demand beyond 100 megabytes before long, according to Texas-based Technology Futures Inc. consultant David Smith. The Internet generation is producing much of its own entertainment, posting homemade videos on sites such as YouTube and remixing and sharing music. “It all takes bandwidth,” Smith said.