This year, the Internet turns 50. In 1969, the first message was sent over the ARPANET, a network of universities and research laboratories across the US. This marked the start of a technology that would go on to become the ‘network of networks’ we all rely on so heavily today.
We’ve come a long way from sharing time on mainframe computers. Or dialling up with a modem. Today four billion people around the world are connected to the Internet via desktops, laptops, and smartphones. 2022 will see more traffic cross the Internet in that one year than in its entire 50-year history. It will continue to create new industries, business models and jobs we can’t even imagine, yet for that opportunity to be felt by everyone, there’s a lot we can be doing.
That starts with ensuring that everyone has access to high-speed broadband, geographically and socio-economically. People need to be able to connect to put everything else in motion. We need to bring high-speed connectivity to everyone in society. And help better connect the 20% of people who live rurally in the UK.
5G RuralFirst is one example. Led by Cisco, the consortium project which had use cases in rural industry and tourism, demonstrated the value of rural connectivity to stimulate growth for the economy.
Universal access is one thing, but having the digital skills to be able to take advantage of greater connectivity is just as important. IT proficiency is becoming just as critical as having a grasp on spelling and grammar for many employers. Most of today’s jobs are already reliant on technology, and that’s before we even start to think about the jobs of the future and the cybersecurity training they might need.
There’s still some progress to be made to get the next generation excited about digital-first careers. We recently saw a drop of more than 40,000 students sitting for GCSEs in computing or ICT. Teachers across the nation work hard to provide a curriculum that prepare students in the best way possible, but they cannot do it alone. Technology leaders and the wider industry must take responsibility for the role they can play in motivating, training and upskilling. After all, they’ll be the ones recruiting the next generation of talent, and are uniquely placed to know what the world of work demands.
The Social Mobility Commission also recently found that while the majority (82%) of UK training is employer-funded, it tends to prioritise already high-skilled employees. Lower-skilled workers are missing out on this potential investment in their future. If the next 50 years are to be as progressive as the last, we need to collectively do more to close this skills gap and encourage interest in developing more digital careers.
The Cisco Networking Academy is one example of where technology companies are helping. For over 20 years, with well over 250,000 people in the UK trained so far, we have over 330 UK academies across schools, FE colleges, through the Open University and with other organisations all helping people to develop their digital skills.
Endpoint security is another big consideration if we’re to make the rest of the century as innovative as we’ve already seen. Everything from our clothing to cars are set to become ‘smarter’ and more connected. This expansion means security will not only become more important, but more complicated.
We already see and stop 20 billion threats a day – six times more than the amount of searches on Google. This figure is only going to increase as the number of points cybercriminals can target grow. Connecting everything from vehicles to utilities also means that the effects of an attack could go well beyond emptying bank accounts. While networks themselves will become more intelligent in network monitoring and mitigating cyber-attacks, the rewards for cybercriminals will remain. It’s vital that all of the players involved come together to make security efforts a priority, and help educate users so that they are aware of the role they can play.
Our modern-day world has been shaped by the Internet. The next 50 years will be shaped by the actions we take now, and while no one knows exactly what’s to come, we have the opportunity to ensure that we continue to make incredible progress for the next half of the century.
Chintan Patel is Chief Technologist at Cisco UK & Ireland.
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