Market experts have warned that the world's consumers are facing a " bandwidth famine".
The Global Bandwidth Study, commissioned by photonics firm CIP Technologies, predicts that the demand for internet bandwidth will more than double in two years and grow by an "order of magnitude" in five years.
This accelerating appetite will place excessive demands on current network architectures, according to report author David Payne of the Institute of Advanced Telecommunications at Swansea University.
Payne has calculated that the increasing demands are not a temporary change in behaviour, but the beginning of a major requirement for additional bandwidth as the use of online video and data services increases.
"Around the turn of the millennium we used to talk about a bandwidth 'glut'. There was a lot of idle capacity," he explained.
"Networks now are being used in a way that few people foresaw, for example early take-up of personalised video, rather than broadcast television, dominating internet video services."
Payne believes that this fundamental and unanticipated shift will place ever increasing pressure on network infrastructures.
"By 2018, assuming that this capacity is made available by the operators, usage could grow to 40 to 100 times the levels seen in networks today," he said.
"It is difficult to see how operators can economically grow existing network architectures to meet this demand, and consideration of the types of networks and the technology deployed is required if they are to ensure profitability."
CIP Technologies believes that a "step-change" in technology is required to cope with the bandwidth demand, and that photonic communications, such as fibre optics, will help deliver the best scales of economy and energy efficiency.
"A significant investment is needed to ensure that businesses can share large files and send high quality images for health, design and videoconferencing purposes," said Payne.
"Home users need to be able to access and enjoy high-definition internet television, online gaming and other services requiring large data transfers at high speed such as video-clip and image sharing."
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