The Evolving Internet: A report looking ahead to 2025 by Cisco

  • What will the Internet be like in 2025?
  • How much bigger will it have grown from today’s 2 billion users and
    $3 trillion market?
  • Will it have achieved its full potential to connect the world’s
    entire population in ways that advance global prosperity, business
    productivity, education and social interaction?
  • Or will it be something less?

Cisco and the Monitor Group’s Global Business Network, the world
leader in scenario planning, today publish "The Evolving Internet." The
report examines the driving forces and uncertainties that will – in
whatever combination – shape the path of the Internet over the next 15

In four scenarios – the result of more than a year’s worth of
research, data collection and interviews – different potential pathways
are described and detailed. The scenarios suggest how a range of
critical factors might play out, such as net neutrality policies,
infrastructure investments, consumer response to new pricing models, and
technology adoption.

One scenario describes a familiar roadmap in which the Internet
continues on its trajectory of unbridled expansion and product and
service innovation. The other three challenge that future, and in the
process illuminate various risks and opportunities that lie ahead for
both business leaders and policy makers.

Notes Enrique Rueda-Sabater, report co-author and Cisco’s director of
strategy and economics for emerging markets. "The next 2 or 3 billion
Internet users will be mostly in emerging markets and very different
from the first 2 billion; global business models and national policies
will fail if they are based on old expectations of behavior,
preferences, and success."

Adds GBN cofounder and Monitor Partner Peter Schwartz, a major
contributor to the work, "We can’t predict the future, but we do know
that the Internet-related choices being made in 2010 will have long-term
consequences—intended and unintended. We hope these scenarios will
foster a deeper strategic conversation in and across the technology and
policy communities about the impact of today’s decisions tomorrow." 

An interdisciplinary team led by Cisco and GBN have examined the
driving forces and uncertainties that will shape the Internet – and the
$3 trillion market (… and counting) it enables – from now through 2025.
Their findings culminate in four illustrative scenarios, designed to
help decision-makers in both technology companies and government
understand, anticipate, and manage key changes, risks, and opportunities
so that the Internet’s potential to create economic and social value
can be realized globally.

The report’s structure and findings

Five premises: The report outlines five powerful trends
already underway that provide a common foundation for any scenarios on
the Internet’s future. These trends relate to the global composition and
governance of the Internet, generational differences, interface
technology, and pricing models for connectivity:

  • Most growth in the Internet-related market will occur outside of
    today’s high income, or "advanced," economies.
  • Global governance of the Internet will remain substantially
  • "Digital natives" will relate to the Internet in markedly different
    ways than earlier generations.
  • The QWERTY keyboard will not be the primary interface with the
  • Consumers will pay for Internet connectivity in a much wider range
    of ways – with flat pricing a rarity.

Three axes of uncertainty: Many other drivers of change are
highly uncertain yet important influences on the Internet’s future.
These uncertainties can be organized along three axes:

  • Will broadband network build-out be extensive as a result of the
    combined effect of private and public investment, or more limited?
  • Will technological progress be characterized more by breakthroughs
    or mostly represent incremental advances?
  • Will user behavior (including the appetite for ever-richer Internet
    applications) lead to demand growth being unbridled or more constrained?

The four scenarios: The interplay of these uncertainties can
result in a large number of plausible scenarios for the Internet’s path
through 2025. The report focuses on four scenarios that portray
challenging and distinctive alternative stories about how the world
might unfold:

  • FLUID FRONTIERS: A world in which the Internet becomes
    pervasive and centrifugal. Technology continues to make connectivity and
    devices more and more affordable (in spite of limited investment in
    network build-out) while global entrepreneurship – and fierce
    competition – ensure that the wide range of needs and demands from
    across the world are met quickly and from equally diverse setups and
  • INSECURE GROWTH: A world in which users – individuals and
    business alike – are inhibited from intensive reliance on the Internet.
    Relentless cyber attacks driven by wide-ranging motivations defy the
    preventive capabilities of governments and international bodies. Secure
    alternatives emerge, but they are expensive.
  • SHORT OF THE PROMISE: A frugal world in which prolonged
    economic stagnation in many countries takes its toll on the spread of
    the Internet. Technology offers no compensating breakthroughs, and
    protectionist policy responses to economic weakness make matters worse –
    both in economic terms and with regard to network technology adoption.
  • BURSTING AT THE SEAMS: A world in which the Internet becomes a
    victim of its own success. Demand for IP-based services is boundless,
    but capacity constraints and occasional bottlenecks create a gap between
    the expectations and reality of Internet use. Meanwhile, international
    technology standards don’t come to pass, in part because of a global
    backlash against decades of U.S. technology dominance.

Two sets of implications: Finally, the report proposes two
frameworks that explore the business strategy and policy implications of
each scenario.

  • What business models will best establish a sustainable, profitable
    position around the Internet of the future?
  • What are the policy challenges that need to be addressed, nationally
    and internationally?

The report’s illustrative sets of implications are indicative of how
the scenarios can help leaders spot opportunities and make wiser
decisions about tomorrow, today.


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