For an industry used to new versions of products coming out each day the
Internet is old. It has been around for years now. For the version hungry there
is reason to cheer: Internet2 may be around the corner. Internet2 is the
initiative of a consortium of universities and technology companies in USA that,
starting 1996, developed techniques that vastly improved connection speeds. The
project aims to create new applications that can’t run over the existing
Internet and to develop the infrastructure for these. More than 227
universities, libraries, public schools and research institutions are connected
to Internet2, which has corporate patrons like IBM, Microsoft, Cisco Systems,
Intel and Qwest Communications International, who use it as a test bed for
Internet2 is a mesh of hundreds of high-speed networks linked by a low-delay,
high-speed fiber-optic backbone, called Abilene, spanning the US and linked to
other countries. The connections are made through a number of regional network
aggregation points, known as gigapops, which serve members in a geographic area.
Since the gigapops are themselves regional networks, the Internet2 is much like
the original Internet in that it is not one network, but a collection of
networks. What differentiates it from the Internet is sheer speed. It transmits
data at speeds of upto 2.4 gigabytes per sec, 45,000 faster than a 56 kbps
modem, allowing scientists to test their laboratory discoveries in the real
world. The main idea is to provide a platform for researching future
applications of the net and demonstrating the capabilities of a 10-gbps network.
That as a comparison is 800 times faster than a regular dial up connection and
at least 200 times faster than a cable or DSL connection. Another key Internet2
technology is multicasting, which allows a single data stream to travel across
the Internet and then split off copies to multiple destinations, while the
present Internet must submit a separate data stream to each user, increasing
congestion. Internet2 is also being used to test version 6 of Internet protocol,
which, among other things, should allow a vast increase in the number of
potential Internet addresses, opening up the world to the time when every thing
from cellphones to refrigerators will be connected to the net.
Interactive TV, virtual 3D videoconferencing, and movies on demand are the
kind of applications that will boom with the advent of Internet2. Peer-to-peer
applications, high definition videoconferencing, remote manipulation of lab
equipment and distributed computing are applications that will be enabled by
Internet2. One peer to peer application- though not a high bandwidth guzzler-already
in use permits sale and purchase of textbooks over the network by students.
Internationally acclaimed violinist and conductor Pinchas Zukerman uses high
definition video conferencing to give instructions to students sitting halfway
across the globe. Today video conferencing using the public Internet has its
limitations in terms of sound, rhythm, visual imagery etc. But Internet2 enables
CD quality sound and DVD-like images. Imagine sitting in a room and observing
researchers exploring a 1,500 year old shipwreck, 1,000 feet below sea level.
That’s what the Black Sea Adventure Camp in USA enabled students to do, with
real life images that enabled the students to explore the wreck with the team.
Other applications for telemedicine and remote astronomy are also in the
The question is, when? 2005, say the optimists, but the roadmap isn’t final
yet. Carriers need to figure out how to make money from services sold over an
Internet2-like network. While commercial carriers over the Internet charge by
the bit, Internet2 plans to charge members a flat annual fee of roughly $27,000.
With the future generation applications in place, it will not take long for a
commercial model to emerge. Even if it takes a little more time the sheer power
of the applications it promises makes it worth waiting for.
The author is Editor-in-Chief of CyberMedia, the publishers of Dataquest
(with inputs from Saswati Sinha) Shyam