The Rancho Santa Fe Post

U-T San Diego: Vivid Video Conferencing to Become a Reality in Gigabit Age

This article was originally published in the U-T San Diego

When technology experts were asked what new killer apps would run on the hyperfast Internet of the future, they came up with something they’d seen on “Star Trek.”

“People mention the holodeck,” said Janna Anderson, director of the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University. “They want to be able to disappear into a 3-D hologram virtual world, whether it’s for education or it’s for escape.”

Elon University and the Pew Research Center surveyed nearly 1,500 technology experts from academia and tech firms, including Intel, Google and Microsoft, about apps that would emerge when service providers offer gigabit Internet speeds, presumably by 2025. Results were released this week.

Experts pointed to vivid video conferencing — where people feel like they’re in the same room — as the top killer app. They also cited augmented reality overlays that provide personalized, specific details about people, places and things.

Lifelike video conferencing could reduce the need for travel, the experts said, while information delivered via augmented reality could deepen dependence on technology to navigate through our lives. Education and health care stand to be substantially transformed by gigabit Internet speeds, according to the survey.

For non-“Star Trek” fans, the holodeck was a recreational room where Capt. Jean-Luc Picard and other fictional characters interacted with computer-generated settings.

While some predictions might seem far-fetched, the prospect of gigabit bandwidth by 2025 is not outlandish.

Google has deployed fiberoptic lines in parts of Kansas City and Provo, Utah, to deliver gigabit-per-second Internet speeds — with Austin, Texas, and other cities in the pipeline.

AT&T is considering network upgrades in 21 cities to power gigabit Internet connectivity, including in San Diego. Cox Communications said it plans improvements this year to power ultrafast Internet in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Omaha, Neb. This summer, Qualcomm bought Wilocity, a company working on next generation Wi-Fi technology capable of delivering multi-gigabit speeds wirelessly.

The average Internet speed for connected households in the U.S. is 10.5 megabits per second, according to cloud services provider Akamai. A gigabit is roughly 1,000 megabits. With gigabit connections, households could download a high-definition movie in about 35 seconds.

Just when all this might happen is unclear. Debates over net neutrality, cybersecurity/ cyberspying and the digital divide could slow down work on the gigabit Internet, Anderson said.

And it’s unclear whether business models will emerge for Internet service providers to justify the investment for widespread gigabit speeds, she added.

“I think if you held these (experts) to it, they would probably say they wouldn’t bet any money on all of this actually becoming the reality in 2025,” Anderson said. “That is too soon. But they would say we will be closer to it, because they already are witnessing early forms of this.”