They said it was destined to fail: the evolution of the internet | For the love of wifi


Everyone gets it wrong sometimes. Luckily, for most of us, our daftest statements are said out loud and fast forgotten, rather than recorded in major publications and kept for posterity.

The big names of the 90s and early noughties had a lot to say about the internet, and from our smug vantage point of the future, we can gleefully reread their embarrassingly incorrect predictions and laugh.

Take author Clifford Stoll, for instance. He famously wrote about online shopping in a 1995 Newsweek article: “We’re promised instant catalogue shopping – just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obsolete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the internet – which there isn’t – the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.”


The same year, Ethernet co-inventor Robert Metcalfe commented in an article for InfoWorld: “I predict the internet will soon go spectacularly supernova, and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.”

It didn’t take Metcalfe long to admit his mistake, though: in 1997, he gave a keynote speech at the sixth International World Wide Web Conference, during which he put his article and some water into a blender and “ate his words”.

Perhaps it’s a little unfair to poke fun at the predictions of the 90s. After all, the internet was a very different place back then: far from using wifi on our constantly connected smartphones, we had to dial into the internet using landlines, rendering our fixed phones useless until we logged off.

Instead, let’s have a look at what the great and good of the tech and media worlds were saying in the noughties, when the internet was much better established.

Take Steve Chen, co-founder of YouTube. In 2005, he wasn’t too sure the company could survive long-term, famously commenting: “There’s just not that many videos I want to watch.”

Oh, Steve. How you underestimated the number of amusing cats in the world.

The following year, veteran technology journalist David Pogue said in his New York Times column: “Everyone’s always asking me when Apple will come out with a cellphone. My answer is: ‘Probably never.’” Just a year later, Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone.

Not everyone thought it was an instant success, however. Microsoft’s then-CEO Steve Ballmer commented to USA Today at the time: “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” In 2019, Apple is one of the top five smartphone makers in the world.

Of course, predicting the future is always easier when you’re the one creating it. The latest creation from Virgin Media falls into that category.

Intelligent WiFi is exactly what it sounds like: wifi with a brain. Using a combination of the Hub 3 router, the Virgin Media Connect app and a bit of technical wizardry, your home connection can scan itself and fix problems before you even notice them.

We’re on the road to the end of weak signals around the home, as your wifi constantly adapts itself to the best frequencies, reducing interference and ensuring the gadget you’re using gets the speed it needs. And if blackspots are a problem, boosters help to tackle the issue – Virgin Fibre customers with Full House TV and a Hub 3 get an Intelligent WiFi booster at no extra cost if the Connect app shows they need one. You can even use the Virgin Media Connect app and pause particular devices, if the children are gaming when they’re supposed to be doing homework, for instance.

We don’t want to risk future journalists’ mockery by predicting that Intelligent WiFi will change everything for your home browsing but, honestly, if you’re still using wifi that has to be tweaked by humans, are you really living in the future at all?

Looking for faster connectivity? Or just fed up of losing connection halfway through your favourite TV series? Virgin Media’s Intelligent WiFi has you covered.

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