By Steven Vermeulen, Executive Vice President Telecom & Data Business Group, Nexans

On 12 March 1989, CERN, one of the world’s largest centres for scientific research, received a proposal from Tim Berners-Lee outlining an innovative way of linking and sharing information over the Internet. This laid the foundation for what we now know as the World Wide Web (WWW). Over the last 30 years, this technology has become irreplaceable almost everywhere in the world, attracting an increasing number of users and contributing to the explosion of data.

Thirty years of network evolution…

It’s exciting to see how the infrastructure has evolved to support the exponential growth of the Internet that came with the WWW. Remember the 1990s? Internet speed was only 33 to 64 kbit/s. At this speed downloading a half-hour episode of your sitcom would take you more than a day! Today, the average global Internet connection speed is around 6 Mbit/s. And once 5G networks will have been fully implemented, it is expected to grow 10-fold!

All this wouldn’t be possible without the evolution of the physical infrastructure. In 1988, TAT-8 became the first subsea fibre optic cable laid in the Atlantic Ocean, carrying just 280 Mbits between the US, the UK and France. Since then, both the capacity and the number of cables have increased many times. In fact, today there are over 440 submarine cables carrying data all over the world - including SAIL, Nexans’ 6,000-km submarine fibre optic cable connecting Cameroon to Brazil.

…and still a lot to be done

In just 30 years, the WWW has become an integral aspect of many people’s lives. It has completely transformed the way we work, the way we communicate, the way we access health, education, financial and governmental services. For most of us today, it is impossible to imagine the world without our emails, messengers and social media, not to mention our apps and connected devices.

That said, just over 55% of the planet’s population is online, which means almost 4 billion people are still in digital darkness. And the lack of digital access can have many negative consequences, severely impacting a country’s economic growth, hampering education, cultural and social initiatives. This is why enabling universal, affordable internet access is today part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

At Nexans we have had an honor to contribute to projects that bridge the digital divide, such as the Jayabaya digital highway project or Brazil’s Connected Amazonia Program. It gives a strong sense of purpose knowing that our submarine cables contribute to ensuring broadband access for over 267 million citizens of Indonesia or help four million people in the Amazon Rainforest connect to the Internet, improving their access to health services, education and information.

Onwards and upwards

To further support the expansion of the World Wide Web, can the Internet be better, faster, more reliable? Of course!

To fully realise the business potential of digital connectivity and ubiquitous access to information, new technology will come, including faster fibre, 5G networks, increasing number of hyperscale data centres… But we shouldn’t forget about a positive social impact that the technology can bring, including fighting the digital divide and overcoming digital poverty in some of the world’s poorer regions.

So even though there is no doubt that the Internet has changed the world dramatically, let’s consider that it’s still early days of the digital economy and aim to achieve even more!