The 2010s were “the decade of the application”, Cisco EVP and General Manager David Goeckeler said on the stage of Cisco Live 2020 in Barcelona.

“We witnessed the rise of the application economy, of every business [becoming] a software business, digitisation,” he said. A variety of trends, from data science to cloud computing and the spread of mobile ecosystems turbocharged the development of ever-more-powerful applications. Today, Goeckeler explained, “the application is king.”

But now, as a new decade begins, it is worth looking ahead and wondering what the 2020s will bring. Try picturing the world ten years in the future: what will business look like? How will work and education change? How will people communicate with each other? More importantly – and potentially underpinning all the rest: what will the future internet be like?

As Goeckeler’s Cisco Live speech shows, history offers some guidance. Just over a decade ago, many of the internet features we take for granted – social networks, cloud computing, applications – did not really exist, while others were in their infancy. Keeping that in mind, the way the internet will evolve is guaranteed to be mind-blowing – not least because of the sheer quantity of people that have yet to start using it.

Today, over half of the world’s population still does not have reliable access to the internet, according to UN figures. That is bound to change over the next decades. “Being connected will become a fundamental right, just like privacy is today,” says Guy Diedrich, Global Innovation Officer at Cisco. “It’ll be a fundamental right to be connected, to be engaged and included.” That influx of newly connected people will only be the start. Alongside human users, the internet will also experience a steady rise in connections as the Internet of Things ramps up: as of today, over 25 billion devices are connected to the internet; by 2030, that figure will have grown to 500 billion.

This connectivity boom will require the internet’s infrastructure to change. Driverless vehicles and connected smart cities will push technology companies to work out a way to make the internet faster and more efficient. “What that’s going to require the internet to do is to have dramatic increases in speed, greater capacities, less latency and to be inherently more secure, so that, for example, autonomous vehicles can actually function safely on the road, or that people can access whatever [they need], whenever they need it,” Diedrich explains.

But technological advances will only be one facet of the story. Profound changes will be felt all across society, especially in the realm of work. As low-latency autonomous devices and AI-powered robots make advances in factories and offices worldwide, workers will need to up their game.


“People are going to have to get comfortable very quickly with the digital-age skills of engagement, of programming, of cyber security,” Diedrich says. He explains that while digitisation might end up displacing as many as 75 million jobs by 2022 (so well before our two-decades-away scenario), it will also make room for 133 million new jobs.

“In some cases that is going to mean retraining,” he says. “It’s going to require us to take line workers in factories who can then be retrained for those jobs of the future, around digital, around software, around programming and cyber security.”

“We can do that in a very efficient way – a localized way – that will allow these workers to have jobs that have much greater longevity, greater pay, and in many cases, much higher job satisfaction.”

Already, Diedrich says, Cisco’s Networking Academy is training millions of people annually, including cyber-security professionals, in an effort to address the 3.5 million dearth of cyber-security workers. In India and China, the company has been training hundreds of thousands of IT students. Over 80 per cent of the cyber-security jobs that need filling are at a technician-level – meaning that workers won’t need to enroll on year-long university courses to reinvent their careers.

The future internet, thanks to its boosted capability to deliver information much faster, and the consolidation of technologies such as AR and VR, will open new opportunities for remotely training and reskilling workers in a smoother and more effective way.


But keeping up with the future internet will not only be about jobs or education. It will be a global effort, encompassing every aspect of society. Governments will have to play a key role, envisioning and implementing a digital agenda that both facilitates and manages the opportunities engendered by a bolstered internet infrastructure. Cisco is already working with governments and research institutions across the globe – from the Netherlands to Germany to Israel – to help them harness connectivity in order to improve healthcare delivery to rural or underserved areas. It is working with financial institutions looking to cater to the so-called “unbanked” – the people living in those parts of the world where there is no or little access to financial and banking services. In Rotterdam, Cisco has also contributed to the creation of the world’s smartest port, using IoT technology and sensors to build a trade hub for the 21st century.

At its core, if the 2010s have been all about software, the 2020s might be the moment when infrastructure reclaims centre-stage. “What this new decade is going to be about is how these two businesses [software and infrastructure] come together even more seamlessly,” Goeckeler said. “We’re just getting started.” From applications to cybersecurity, from infrastructure to company culture and customer experience, the change will be deep and far-reaching. And it will be inclusive.

“The key promise of the Internet of the future is that no one gets left behind this time,” said Goeckeler. “There will be access for all, and it’s going to change lives. It’s going to change societies. It’s going to change the world.”


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