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Upwards and Upwards: as Internet and IP traffic sky rocket, how can we secure our digital economic future?


December 18, 2018


Internet usage is rising at an ever-increasing rate – and the ways in which we’re connecting are changing. But what does this mean for the UK?

Our digital past, present and future at a glance

The Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) for 2017-2022, was released on 26th November. Launched in 2005, it’s a globally-respected and much quoted authority on current and forecast internet usage patterns, looking at both consumer and business IP together with internet use by country, continent and globally.

It won’t surprise you that IP and internet traffic is increasing.

Everywhere.

What’s interesting though is the scale and pace of this growth. In 2022 alone, there will be more global IP traffic generated around the world in one year than the total of all IP traffic generated to date.

In the UK, 2022 will see the gigabyte equivalent of all movies ever made crossing our networks every 26 minutes.

The number of internet users will also grow.  By 2022, 60% of the world’s population will be online, up from 45% today. In a world where an increasing amount of public and commercial services exist online, this is welcome progress, although risks of a significant digital divide remain.

The number of connected devices will also continue to rocket; by 2022, we’ll be using more than 28 billion, with an average of 10.6 devices per person.

But what does this reveal about our digital present and future? What impact will it have on people, businesses and our infrastructure?  Specifically, what does it mean for the UK? How can we sustain this growth and stay online?

What lies ahead

The forecast that internet traffic in the UK will grow at an average annual rate of 22% a year up to 2022 demonstrates that the trend towards doing more online still moves apace even for one of one of the top 10 digitally competitive countries in the world where 91% of us are already online.

This means we’ll be watching more of the latest series over smart TVs, holding more work meetings via video and using more smart devices to monitor our health.

Done right, devices offer huge benefits for individuals, businesses,  public sector, etc. And digital technologies offer businesses, regions and government organisations tremendous potential in terms of productivity, competitive gains and exciting innovation; as Cisco would say, transforming the way we live, work, play and learn.

How to maximise the potential?

The VNI is a forecast based on some unparalleled insight. But while it sticks steadfastly to the numbers, it doesn’t attempt to predict the anticipated impact of these trends.

As governments around the world consider how to maximise the potential of digital technologies, I want to suggest three priorities for achieving this in the UK:

Infrastructure

The UK Government and Ofcom have set out a strong ambition for the UK to lead the way on 5G deployment, and a rapid increase in full fibre connections.  Lowering costs, designing regulation to encourage investment and competition, and considering the many ways people will need to connect, all form part of the mix. This ambition should be encouraged further however, so that the UK no longer has one of the lowest full-fibre penetration rates in Europe. Security must also be the forefront of future network design.  Furthermore, the UK has a golden opportunity to lead the way in providing digital platforms to enable connectivity, innovation and security on our existing physical infrastructure; road, rail, utilities, etc.

Skills

Our people must have the right skills, not only to drive digital innovation and take advantage of ever greater connectivity, but throughout the entire workforce.  Strengthening STEM learning in schools and diversifying education to boost apprenticeship and technical routes are a welcome part of the answer.  In the medium-term however, we must ensure our existing workforce is able to use the emerging digital technologies being adopted by companies, public services and others. Not doing so will hold us back.

Regional growth

Productivity gaps between the south-east of England and much of the rest of the UK are well-known.  Adopting digital technologies is the single biggest lever available to address this and offers a huge opportunity to transform industry in UK regions. This can’t take place in a vacuum though; there must be more support for businesses regionally, to allow them to understand best practices around adoptingnew technologies.

The future is online

Cisco’s Visual Networking Index shows that digitisation in the UK continues and at an increasingly rapid rate. With the right infrastructure and skills, we could – and should- take advantage of these trends.

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