Discussion of having our media in a digital-only format has been ongoing for years now. Technology has advanced rapidly since the 2000s began, and we’ve already seen digital media almost totally obliterate its physical counterpart in the music and movie industries. Gamers are also anticipating the same to happen in their industry. As convenient as digital media is, a recent trip has taught me just how much the global network infrastructure needs to be improved for this to be a total reality.
It’s nearly the end of 2017 and yet, not everyone who has an Internet connection has a fast, reliable one. While it may seem like everyone in the world must own some form of a computer at this point, it must be remembered that this isn’t actually the case. I’m still meeting people that have to go out to public areas like libraries and cyber cafés to surf the web. Even some who have a mobile device and/or laptop don’t always have Internet connections in their homes, so they have to go to rely on places like restaurants, cafés, and parks to use free public Wi-Fi. Then you have the folks who do have Internet connections at home, but the service is not adequate at all.
Don’t think this only applies to developing nations; even first-world countries like the USA aren’t completely ready for an all-digital world. In fact, a report from Recode released just this past June reveals that over 60 million people who live in urban areas of the United States don’t have broadband Internet in their homes. It also has figures for other major countries, showing the reality that millions of people worldwide are still in the ‘Internet stone age’, so to speak.
I’m currently on a month-long trip to Lima, Peru. It’s the capital of the country and is home to nearly 10 million people. Definitely not a tiny city by any means. Its architecture is pretty modern with huge skyscrapers, all sorts of American chains, and even a few fancy cars zipping around. I’ve been here for about a week now and although I’m impressed to see all of this, there’s one little quirk I find dumbfounding: the Internet in my AirBNB is prehistoric. The landlord has done a decent job at keeping the signal somewhat strong with Wi-Fi repeaters, but the actual speed is almost horrifying. My latest speed test gave me the jaw-dropping score of 3.18Mbps on the Download, and 5.91Mbps on the Upload. As someone who obviously needs the Internet to survive because it’s how I make a living, this has been a very hard pill to swallow so far.
My Internet connection in my Peru AirBNB is so bad that I can’t even play a Rocket League match. I haven’t even attempted downloading new games on Steam.
Another event that reminded me how much more the global network infrastructure needs to be improved happened back in September. I had the privilege of reviewing Forza Motorsport 7 on Windows 10. When I got the download code, I was totally ecstatic! But, my excitement quickly turned into dread when I found out the actual download size of the game was just a notch shy of being 100GB. It isn’t every day you encounter a single game that’s this big; it’s currently the biggest game in my library so far just in terms of file-size.
I was in my own apartment in Cuenca, Ecuador at the time. My Internet plan there provides me with a reasonable 20Mbps on both the Download and Upload. But the sheer size of Forza MS7 made that usually stable connection bow to its knees. About four hours and 60GBs into the download, my external hard drive randomly disconnected from my computer. So, I had to start the download all over again. This wasn’t the only hiccup, though. In total, it took about four attempts for me to download the game. Mind you, I’ve never had this much trouble downloading a single game before; it just so happened to be the one that weighs a monstrous 100GB. When I finally did get the entire game, the download took about six hours. This is a long time in any case, but it was especially hard to deal with since I had to get the review finished. Boy, was that a fun experience.
Of course, not everyone has problems like this. In fact, one of my colleagues just recently showed off the speed test results he got after upgrading his Internet connection: over 200Mbps on the Download and Upload. That’s pretty insane, and definitely not common. But it just goes to show the huge disparity there is in the global network infrastructure. As I said earlier, I’m struggling with a 3Mbps connection right now, while my colleague is rolling around at the speed of sound with 200Mbps; I literally have one percent of his speed.
I love Forza Motorsport 7, but that 100GB download nearly destroyed my connection. This is only the beginning of this being the standard size for games; network infrastructure needs to be seriously improved to handle downloads like these regularly.
As long as there continues to be this massive gulf in circumstances, then an all-digital world is going to be all the more difficult to fully realize. While it is pretty convenient to be able to download/stream all of our media straight to our devices without ever having to leave our homes, for millions of people all over the world that’s still a luxury or even a dream. Good grief, I’ve found myself watching YouTube videos in 360p over the past week. This is almost like a nightmare I can’t wake up from. Yes, I’m sensationalizing the situation a bit, but you get the point: it’s not fun to have a slow Internet connection.
The World Wide Web as we know it today came about in 1990. That was 27 years ago. Despite it having been nearly three decades, there’s still parts of the world where the Internet has barely touched (not counting extremely rural/remote areas). I’m bringing up this point because it’s almost laughable. We got humans walking on the moon all the way in 1969—48 years ago. So, how on earth (pun intended) did we get mankind on another celestial body with technology from nearly a half-century ago, yet we still can’t supply urban populations around the world with equally stable and fast Internet connections? That simply does not compute.
Hopefully, the big gaming companies will keep this in mind as they design the consoles of the next generation. Some folks are expecting the next systems to ditch disc drives. I really hope this isn’t the case, as that’s going to put a lot of people at a major disadvantage. Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, Steam and even the Nintendo Network/Switch Online are all great, but they aren’t ready to be the be-all, end-all standard just yet. Aside from the disparity in network infrastructure, there are still other problems like DRM that need to be overcome. And what about when games are removed from storefronts and physical copies can’t be found anymore? Servers for online multiplayer being shut down? These are other big problems that need solutions.
One day we’ll get to an all-digital world, but not just yet. How long? Who knows, but in the meantime, it looks like we have to stick with baby steps. Put it this way, people in the 20th century thought the 21st century would bring flying cars and cities in the sky, and we’re still not anywhere near there yet. So, not having an all-digital world wouldn’t be the first futuristic vision that seems to be taking forever to become a reality. But if anything, the biggest point is this: ain’t nobody should to be dealing with no 3Mbps connection in 2017. Shame…total, utter, shame.
Let’s hope that the cities of the future offer everyone equally amazing Internet speeds and reliability.
Take a speed test of your own Internet connection and comment below on what your results are! (You can choose whichever):