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New-style Internet approaches with speed

There is a saying amongst Internet veterans that “...speed is not everything...it is the ONLY thing”.

Such is our impatience in this world of instant gratification that www has come to mean World Wide Wait, as networks become increasingly unable to deliver the volume demanded every day on the Interet.

The revolution of connectivity, which has produced several hundred million Net users in the last few years, has been followed by the great content revolution.

Once we have been exposed to a sample of the new service, we not only want more quantity but more sophistication. This exponential growth in demand for information has produced serious traffic jams on the information highway and badly clogged networks.

Arguably, the existing Internet infrastructure is able to cope with an assumption that we will continue to surf the net at 28.8 or 56 kilobytes per second. In reality, cable modems and digital subscriber line services are proliferating at a serious rate.

In the US, this dilemma was anticipated several years ago. In 1996/97, plans to design and build Internet Mark II were put in place.

At the most senior levels in the US there are two parallel initiatives. The first is the Next Generation Internet program, involving government agencies and large corporations led by Vice-President Al Gore and the US Federal Government. The second is called the Internet2 initiative, which is spearheaded by leading US universities.

The NGI program aims to provide high speed connections to 100 government agencies and super high speed links to ten other strategic sites by the end of this year. The focus is on the testing of new technology and associated applications.

The Internet2 initiative involves developing the same level of superfast links between 100 US universities.

The bottom line in both instances is the same – to provide a new Internet backbone capable of managing the seemingly insatiable demand for bandwidth hungry services.

At present, the best dial-up modems exchange thousands of bits of information per second. The new facility will have the capacity of exchanging billions of bits of data per second.

This, incidentally, means that the entire content of the Encyclopaedia Britannica could be flashed across the Pacific in one second.

Internet Mark II is not only about faster networks. It is also about new services such as movies on demand, music on demand and meetings with people face to face, online, in real time. Such services are still some years away for householders. Access, in the first instance, will be reserved for universities, government agencies and corporations.

Developing a new Internet infrastructure to facilitate networks which are 100-1000 times faster than today’s Internet has major strategic implications for the US and the rest of the world:

• The US military is focussed on ‘dominant battlefield awareness’. This requires an ability to collect information from large numbers of high resolution sensors, automatic processing of the data to support terrain and target recognition and real time distribution of that data to the fighting unit.

• Doctors at university medical centres will be able to use large archives of radiology images to identify patterns and features associated with particular diseases.

• Distance education at university level will incorporate two-way video to remote sites, modelling and simulation and online access to instructional software.

• Biomedical researchers will be able to solve problems in large scale DNA sequencing and gene identification, opening the door to breakthroughs in curing human genetic diseases.

• In respect of manufacturing engineering, virtual reality and more sophisticated modelling and simulation will reduce the time required to develop new products.

In Australia, it seems that we will again go along for the ride of our lives with the US. At present it is hard to identify an Australian leadership figure who comprehends and shares the enthusiasm of Al Gore for these matters.

• Mal Bryce is chairman of Celebrating Lives and a former WA Deputy Premier.

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