Artificial intelligence’s future hinges on the Internet getting faster for both consumers and businesses.

Networking giant Cisco released its annual report about the Internet on Tuesday, and like in previous years, some of the conclusions were obvious: more people will get online in the coming years using more devices, while Internet speeds increase.

But Cisco executive Thomas Barnett said that the growth—by 2023 there will be 5 billion Internet users (up from 3.9 billion in 2018), 29.3 billion web-connected devices (up from 18.4 billion in 2018), and broadband speeds of 110 mbps (versus 45.9 mbps in 2018)—is significant beyond the fact that numbers are simply getting bigger.

To handle the load, telecommunication companies will have to increasingly use machine learning as a traffic controller.

Cisco’s report found that 61% of telecom providers plan artificial intelligence projects for so-called edge computing, a buzzy tech-industry term for crunching data near where the data is generated and used instead of at a cloud data center that is likely hundreds of miles away. Walmart’s experimental Levittown, N.Y. store that’s outfitted with cameras and over 100 servers to better track inventory and customers is one example of edge computing.

But in order for edge computing to gain greater momentum, the Internet must get faster, which is why Cisco predicts that mobile carriers will start upgrading their networks to accommodate the increasing demand. And as these big carriers—AT&T and Verizon, for example—expand their Internet infrastructure, they’ll use machine learning to more efficiently distribute Internet access. 

So far, telecommunication companies haven’t yet built the networking infrastructure to accommodate these kinds of futuristic A.I. applications. But Barnett expects that to change, and telecom giants will spend more on 5G and next-generation Wi-Fi.

“Their business depends on it,” Barnett said.

Jonathan Vanian 
@JonathanVanian
jonathan.vanian@fortune.com

Source: Fortune

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