October 9, 2014

Killer Apps in the Gigabit Age

About This Report and Survey

This report is the latest in a sustained effort throughout 2014 by the Pew Research Center to mark the 25th anniversary of the creation of the World Wide Web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (The Web at 25).

The report covers experts’ views about what much faster bandwidth speeds might produce as new Internet activities. Over the past few decades people have been sharing and accessing magnitudes more information online annually. Network speeds are dependent upon many factors, but local Internet architecture is a lynchpin for the kind of efficient service that can handle cutting edge activities that could involve high-definition video encounters or massive amounts of data flowing between devices tied to the Internet of Things. In fact, former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski issued a “Gigabit City Challenge” in 2013, urging that all 50 US states have at least one community with gigabit Internet access by 2015 so “innovators can develop next-generation applications and services that will drive economic growth and competitiveness.”9

Gigabit connectivity (1,000 Mbps) is still quite limited in the United States; while average speeds vary greatly, gigabit connections are 50-100 times faster than the average fixed high-speed connection.10 The expectation of most of the more than 1,400 people who participated in this canvassing of experts by the Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center is that as this connectivity becomes more common, online life will be significantly changed, though the precise contours of the change are not fully clear. Indeed, the New York Times recently reported that people in two US communities with gigabit systems are finding “it’s hard to know what to do with it.”

William Schrader, the co-founder and CEO of PSINet Inc., the first commercial ISP, said, “As gigabit bandwidth becomes widespread later this decade, applications will emerge which exploit the combination of big data, GPS location, weather, personal-health monitoring devices, industrial production, and much more … Gigabit bandwidth is one of the few real ‘build it and they will come’ moments for new killer apps. The fact that no one had imagined the other killer apps prior to seeing them grow rapidly implies that no one can imagine these new ones—including me. But I am confident they will come.”

Most participants in this canvassing said people will always find a way to use more “bandwidth.” As Bob Harootyan, manager of research for a national nonprofit organization, said, “The technological imperative will continue wherever advances promise to do one or more of the following: provide more efficient or effective outcomes, increase demand for a product or service, create new applications or uses, solve previously unsolvable problems, improve everyday life at a reasonable cost, promote well-being, respond to consumer needs or desires, provide entertainment, make a person or enterprise more competitive, etc. For the private sector, profit will be a driving force. For the nonprofit and government sectors, improved service and general well-being is the driving force.”

The findings we describe in this report emerge in the context of other reports:

  • A February 2014 report from the Pew Research Center tied to the Web’s anniversary looking at the strikingly fast adoption of the Internet and the generally positive attitudes users have about its role in their social environment.
  • A March 2014 Digital Life in 2025 report issued by the Pew Research Center in association with Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center focusing on the Internet’s future more broadly. Some 1,867 experts and stakeholders responded to an open-ended question about the future of the Internet by 2025.
  • A May 2014 Digital Life in 2025 report on the Internet of Things from Pew Research and Elon University examining the likely impacts of the Internet of Things and wearable and embedded networked devices. A majority of the more than 1,600 respondents said they expect significant expansion of the Internet of Things, including connected devices, appliances, vehicles, wearables, and sensor-laden aspects of the environment.
  • A July 2014 Digital Life in 2025 report on “Net Threats” (challenges to the open Internet) from Pew Research and Elon University canvassing a number of experts and other stakeholders on what they see as the major threats to the free flow of information online. A majority of these experts expect the Internet to remain quite open to sharing but they see many potential threats to this freedom.
  • An August 2014 Digital Life in 2025 report on “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs” from Pew Research and Elon University about the degree to which technology advances might destroy more jobs than they created. The expert respondents were split on the verdict.

This report is a collaborative effort based on the input and analysis of the following individuals.

Lee Rainie, Director, Internet, Science & Technology Research, Pew Research Center
Prof. Janna Anderson, Director, Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center
Jennifer Connolly, Research Consultant

Find related reports about the future of the Internet at http://www.pewinternet.org/topics/future-of-the-internet/

About this canvassing of experts

The expert predictions reported here about the impact of the Internet over the next 10 years came in response to one of eight questions asked by the Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center in an online canvassing conducted between November 25, 2013, and January 13, 2014. This is the sixth Internet study the two organizations have conducted together since 2004. For this project, we invited more than 12,000 experts and members of the interested public to share their opinions on the likely future of the Internet and 2,551 responded to at least one of the questions we asked. Nearly 1,500 responded to this question about access and sharing online in 2025.

The Web-based instrument was fielded to three audiences. The first was a list of targeted experts identified and accumulated by Pew Research and Elon University during the five previous rounds of this study, as well as those identified across 12 years of studying the Internet realm during its formative years. The second wave of solicitation was targeted to prominent listservs of Internet analysts, including lists titled: Association of Internet Researchers, Internet Rights and Principles, Liberation Technology, American Political Science Association, Cybertelecom, and the Communication and Information Technologies section of the American Sociological Association. The third audience was the mailing list of the Pew Research Center, which includes those who closely follow technology trends, data, and themselves are often builders of parts of the online world. While most people who responded live in North America, people from across the world were invited to participate.

Respondents gave their answers to the following prompts:

New killer apps in the gigabit age: Will there be new, distinctive, and uniquely compelling technology applications that capitalize upon significant increases in bandwidth in the US between now and 2025?

Please elaborate on your answer: (Begin with your name if you are willing to have your comments attributed to you.) If you answered “no,” explain why you think there will be incremental change, or hardly any change at all. If you answered “yes,” describe what the killer apps might be as gigabit connectivity becomes available. Explain what new tools and applications will excite people in the next decade and envision the kinds of personal connectivity and immersive media experiences that will seize the public imagination.

Since the data are based on a non-random sample, the results are not projectable to any population other than the individuals expressing their points of view in this sample. The respondents’ remarks reflect their personal positions and are not the positions of their employers; the descriptions of their leadership roles help identify their background and the locus of their expertise. About 84% of respondents identified themselves as being based in North America; the others hail from all corners of the world. When asked about their “primary area of Internet interest,” 19% identified themselves as research scientists; 9% said they were entrepreneurs or business leaders; 10% as authors, editors or journalists; 8% as technology developers or administrators; 8% as advocates or activist users; 7% said they were futurists or consultants; 2% as legislators, politicians or lawyers; 2% as pioneers or originators; and 33% specified their primary area of interest as “other.”

On this particular survey question a majority of the respondents elected to remain anonymous. Because people’s level of expertise is an important element of their participation in the conversation, anonymous respondents were given the opportunity to share a description of their Internet expertise or background.

Here are some of the key respondents in this report:

Miguel Alcaine, International Telecommunication Union area representative for Central America; Francois-Dominique Armingaud, formerly a computer engineer for IBM now teaching security; danah boyd, a social scientist for Microsoft; Stowe Boyd, lead at GigaOM Research; Bob Briscoe, chief researcher for British Telecom; Robert Cannon, Internet law and policy expert; Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google; David Clark, senior scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; Glenn Edens, research scientist at PARC and IETF area chair; Jeremy Epstein, a senior computer scientist at SRI International; Susan Etlinger, a technology industry analyst with the Altimeter Group; Seth Finkelstein, a programmer, consultant and EFF Pioneer of the Electronic Frontier Award winner; Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher for Microsoft; Joel Halpern a distinguished engineer at Ericsson; Jim Hendler, Semantic Web scientist and professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center at the City University of New York; John Markoff, senior writer for the Science section of the New York Times; Jerry Michalski, founder of REX, the Relationship Economy eXpedition; Raymond Plzak, former CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers, now a member of the board of ICANN; Mike Roberts, Internet Hall of Famer and longtime leader with ICANN; Paul Saffo, managing director of Discern Analytics and consulting associate professor at Stanford; Doc Searls, director of ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Center; Hal Varian, chief economist for Google; and David Weinberger, senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center.

Here is a selection of other institutions at which respondents work or have affiliations:

Yahoo; Intel; IBM; Hewlett-Packard; Nokia; Amazon; Netflix; Verizon; PayPal; BBN; Comcast; US Congress; EFF; W3C; The Web Foundation; PIRG: NASA; Association of Internet Researchers; Bloomberg News; World Future Society; ACM; the Aspen Institute; Magid; GigaOm; the Markle Foundation; The Altimeter Group; FactCheck.org; key offices of US and European Union governments; the Internet Engineering Task Force; the Internet Hall of Fame; ARIN; Nominet; Oxford Internet Institute; Princeton, Yale, Brown, Georgetown, Carnegie-Mellon, Duke, Purdue, Florida State and Columbia universities; the universities of Pennsylvania, California-Berkeley, Southern California, North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Kentucky, Maryland, Kansas, Texas-Austin, Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Boston College.

Complete sets of credited and anonymous responses to this question, featuring many dozens of additional opinions, can be found on the Imagining the Internet site:




  1. See FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski Issues Gigabit City Challenge to Providers, Local, and State Governments. January 18, 2013. http://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-chairman-genachowski-issues-gigabit-city-challenge
  2. See Measuring Broadband America 2014: FCC Report on Consumer Wireline Broadband Performance in the US http://www.fcc.gov/reports/measuring-broadband-america-2014