The internet, as we know it, hits 30. What does its future look like?

Bengaluru: Three decades ago, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web that made the internet accessible to us, transforming our lives. The internet is once again changing radically, as various concerns undermine its democratic nature.

Mint charts its evolution and future.

How did we begin accessing the internet?

Thirty years ago, Berners-Lee was working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) when he proposed the idea of the World Wide Web. It was his vision of “a decentralized information management system”. The proposal was made against the backdrop of the internet, till then a loose connected network of computers primarily catering to defence and academic organizations. He developed an internet-based hypertext system to link and access information across different computers with the help of a browser. CERN will celebrate the anniversary of this invention on 12 March.

How pervasive is the internet today?

More than half the world’s population is online today and there are close to 2 billion websites. According to Hosting Facts, there were 4.1 billion internet users as of December 2018, up from 3.9 billion in mid-2018 and about 3.7 billion in late 2017. Asia has the most internet users accounting for 49% of the world’s total, followed by Europe. China has the highest number of internet users of all countries, with more than 800 million users, followed by India, with over 500 million. This year, more than 63% of all mobile phone users are expected to access the internet from their mobile phones.

How is it helping businesses?

Mobile e-commerce, Hosting Facts says, will account for about 67.2% of e-commerce sales by 2021. Startups and small businesses have used cloud and mobility to build disruptive models.

How will it develop in India?

According to an October study by the Internet and Mobile Association of India, the internet services sector in India that includes online retail, fintech, foodtech, digital classifieds, digital ads, e-travel and ticketing, was valued at $33.8 billion and is likely to reach $76.4 billion by 2022. The report suggests the sector can reach $124 billion with supportive government policies, better infrastructure for widespread internet connectivity (read 5G) and adoption of digital and advanced technologies across the ecosystem.

What about the next 30 years?

Governments today can and do use the internet to track your internet protocol addresses and your phone to spy on conversations, if needed. Technologies such as the Internet of Things, blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) will not only shape the future of internet services, but also increase data theft, security and privacy risks. Governments may indulge in cyberwars and AI-driven robot battles. On the bright side, the popularity of vernacular languages on the internet will give rise to more entrepreneurs.