New Technology May Boost Internet Speeds

Lyla Katz
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology may have developed a way to eliminate the slowest component in the current Internet infrastructure, bumping speeds by as much as 100 to 1,000 fold.

The majority of high-bandwidth, high speed traffic is delivered along bundles of optical cables. These signals can go a long way, but periodically they come to an intersection and have to be redirected. It's hard to reroute light, so currently these require converting the signal back to an electric signal, rerouting, and finally converting back to an optical signal. All of this requires extra power and significant slows the internet down.

A team led by Vincent Chan, an electrical engineering and computer science professor at MIT, figured out an idea called "flow switching" and it sounds like common sense, but surprisingly hasn't widely been suggested or thought of before. ,p> The idea here would be to take heavy traffic zones and establish a one-way dedicated connection. For example, major cities like Chicago, Miami, New York City and Detroit might have a straight path to California's Silicon Valley. And Silicon Valley might have a straight path back to them. Without the need for major rerouting, the Internet would become dramatically faster and more energy efficient.

"If this can truly jack up Internet data speeds by 100 times, that would have a huge impact on the usability of the Internet,” says Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc. “We'd see the era of 3D computing and fully immersive Internet experiences come much sooner.... if this turns out to be practical, it could be a very big step forward."

"With bigger applications and more bottlenecks, you could buy extra bandwith if you pay through the nose, but that's not something every user could do,” Chan says. “Sure, you can increase the data rate, but it's expensive. With this new architecture, we can speed up the Internet but make high-speed access cheaper."

He says he is confident that the technology is ready to be rolled out commercially. He's establishing a startup that will facilitate the creation of these direct pipes.

"I think we have enough tests to know that the transport is ready and the architecture would work,” he says.

But with the triumph also comes controversy. The massive speed increase could allow for much faster BitTorrent and P2P connections, offering the opportunity to fileshare more than ever before. Media watchdogs have long voiced concerned about the potential effects of faster Internet.