Just two decades ago a dial-up internet connection would have taken more than a lifetime to download a single movie, while today's broadband connections can pull down several HD movie streams simultaneously.
The debate raging over whether the Coalition's 25 megabits-per-second minimum broadband plan is adequate compared with Labor's plan offering 100 megabits to 1 gigabit a second (100Mbps-1Gbps) raises the question: how much speed do we actually need?
The business development manager for CSIRO's Digital Productivity and Services Flagship, Geof Heydon, has spent decades considering this question. In 2002, he predicted that by 2020 high-end home users would require 1Gbps connections.
For video alone, a 4KTV stream, four times the quality of HD, would require about 28Mbps for a single stream, he said. Products supporting the standard are already on the market, and 8KTV, requiring four times more bandwidth again, is in development.
''If you start to introduce the idea of holographic or 3D image projection, and I expect within five years we'll see early low-quality holographic entertainment systems - they will require even more bandwidth,'' Mr Heydon said.
Many households now have several large screens and portable devices connected to the web, so bandwidth requirements are rapidly multiplying. Fibre to the home, which is Labor's proposal, is technically infinitely upgradeable.
According to the Bureau of Statistics, in the quarter to December 31, 2010, Australians downloaded 174,665 terabytes of data over fixed-line broadband connections. This jumped to 254,947 in the quarter ending June 30, 2011, then to 322,290 in the December 2011 quarter and again to 389,130 by June last year.
Futurist Mark Pesce, an honorary associate in digital cultures at the University of Sydney, said in 10 years a household would have ''north of 100 devices'' connected.
''The car's going to be talking to the dealership, the dish washer's going to be talking to Sydney Water, the lights and the airconditioner are going to be talking to Energy Australia … your toilet's going to be analysing your urine for you and talking to your doctor,'' he said.
''When you have all these devices trying to talk you have to make sure they can talk in an uncluttered fashion.''
From June 2010 to June last year, the number of Australians streaming video rose from 2.3 million to almost 4.4 million, according to researcher Roy Morgan.
Mr Heydon said that ''25 years ago it was literally impossible in somebody's lifetime to download a movie, and yet 25 years later families are doing it every single day and they're doing it without much delay … the next 25 years will translate into just as many mind-blowing changes''.
Networking group Cisco predicted that by 2016, global internet traffic would reach 1.3 zettabytes year (1 trillion gigabytes), which is 10 times the number for 2008.
''The problem with designing a network to meet the needs of today is that it denies you the ability to meet the needs of tomorrow,'' said technology commentator Brad Howarth, co-author of A Faster Future. ''It's like the M5 tunnel - by the time it was completed it was already jamming up.''