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UK’s internet bandwidth could soon be choked – and rationing looms?

The UK’s internet infrastructure is in danger of beginning to seriously creak under the sheer weight of the bandwidth demands put on it – and the power demands of keeping the net running are also set to cause big strains on the country’s suppliers, with the possible outcome of ‘internet rationing’.

The warning that dire straits are looming for the UK’s comms networks will be given to The Royal Society this week, with Professors Andrew Ellis, Sir David Payne and David Saad having organised a meeting to discuss the evidently considerable problems our online expansion is causing.

The Telegraph spotted the details of the meeting, which will discuss how “communications networks face a potentially disastrous ‘capacity crunch’.”

The official spiel stated: “This meeting will combine research in cutting edge information theory adapted to account for the nonlinear dynamics of optical systems, radical network architectures grounded in mathematics to enhance utilisation of the finite capacity, advanced material science to provide new tools and uniquely economic analysis to scope the urgency of the issues.”

It will look at the impact of capacity growth on national telecoms networks, future traffic demands in terms of media (streaming video will of course be a major strain), energy sector challenges and physical limitations to network capacity, among many other issues.

Apparently current optical cable and switches will reach their capacity for data throughput as 2020 rolls around, meaning new cables will have to be laid, and the expense of this may lead to “sharp rises” in the cost of broadband subscriptions, according to Ellis. Additional cables will likely be flooded in short order given the rate demand is growing at, he further noted.

Power consumption is also a major worry, with the internet currently using 8 per cent of the national grid according to Ellis, with demand ramping up hugely. It’s here where we face the spectre of some kind of rationing, perhaps, in the future, as Ellis stated: “It is growing so fast, currently at an exponential rate, that, in theory, it could be using all the UK power generation by 2035. We cannot make all that extra power, so we will have to restrict or reduce access, perhaps by metering consumers so they pay for what they use.”

The message is that we need to act quickly to face these issues before they become real problems down the line.

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Darren Allan

Darran has over 25 years of experience in digital and magazine publishing as a writer and editor. He's also an author, having co-written a novel published by Little, Brown (Hachette UK). He currently writes news, features and buying guides for TechRadar, and occasionally other Future websites such as T3 or Creative Bloq and he's a copy editor for TechRadar Pro. Darrran has written for a large number of tech and gaming websites/magazines in the past, including Web User and ComputerActive. He has also worked at IDG Media, having been the Editor of PC Games Solutions and the Deputy Editor of PC Home.