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Home  /  geekspeak  /  What is the Net good for, exactly?

What is the Net good for, exactly?

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Just writing that headline alone gave me terrible flashbacks to a Sandra Bullock 90’s thriller that I’m sure would seem horribly dated (although in some ways possibly prescient). Living more in the now, though, debate continues to rage around the potential implementation of the National Broadband Network, whether there’s enough broadband for everyone anyway, and exactly how much it should cost.

With that in mind, my ears pricked up recently when attending a product launch for networking firm Netgear. To kick things off, representatives showed off survey figures that outlined the current home usage patterns of the Internet across all users. There’s some interesting figures that show what we use the Net for from home locations.

It shouldn’t come as much of a shock that Web and Email use tops the list, with 90% of respondents using both services. An NBN isn’t likely to change the usage there, although it would enable larger files to be sent via email or viewed via the web with more ease.

51% of respondents used social networking, and I suspect that’s a figure that’s only going to rise. If you strip out the formal business requirements of email, there’s a lot of messages sent that are better suited to social networking sites and services, and that’s even without taking into consideration professional social networks such as LinkedIn.

46% of respondents use the internet to download music and video. There wasn’t a breakout for those doing so legally or illegally, although that’s hardly surprising. Nobody’s likely to dob themselves in on a survey. Obviously a faster broadband infrastructure would enable this to run faster, but it could also serve in the fight against copyright infringement nicely. As Apple proved with iTunes, once you can deliver customers fair quality content quickly and at a good price, the market will follow.

45% of those surveyed used the Net to work from home. That’s a big area where a faster broadband infrastructure could have huge implications for how we all live our lives. Not every job can be taken online, but the facility to quickly and seamlessly access work from home, or telework entirely could be exceptionally useful. Then again, it could lead to a nation of overworked employees.

An equal 45% used the net to watch movies, TV or video. That’s distinct from the downloaders. These are folks watching YouTube and its many imitators. Again, the NBN case here is pretty obvious, and even has employment implications. Once you can stream good quality video anywhere across the nation, if you’ve got a great idea for a TV program, who needs the free to air networks any more?

The rest of the figures skew a little lower — 34% for instant messaging chat, 30% for internet radio and 23% for gaming. One figure that did surprise me a little was that only 24% of respondents used internet access from home for webcam or voice over IP services. Considering the convenience and cost savings that services like Skype offer, it’s interesting that the takeup is comparatively low.

There’s dozens of usage scenarios beyond home usage that an NBN could address, but rather like putting today’s broadband up against the first 400kbps connections I ever used, it’s tough to entirely visualise them. Telemedicine is an often chosen target, but there’s plenty of scope for other uses, both professional and personal. I reckon it’ll be very interesting to revisit those figures in a decade’s time. What will we be  using the broadband of the future (no matter what form it takes) for then?


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