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PC Magazine – The Web at 1000X

Thursday, August 13, 1998

By Carol Levin

Close your eyes and try to envision what the Web could offer were it a thousand times faster than it is today. That’s more than just wishful thinking for Joe Mambretti, director of the new Center for Advanced Internet Research, which is slated to open on the campus of Northwestern University by the end of the year.

Working with Ameritech, Cisco, IBM, and other corporate partners, the Center first plans to tackle Internet-based digital video. The project includes developing a TV station for the Internet, which not only broadcasts digital video but also offers interactivity with viewers as well as customized content. The system will run over fiber optics, with connections initially going to research institutions, universities, businesses, and then homes. Estimated arrival time: three years.

What’s Abilene?

“People now are accustomed to the world wide wait. They don’t even bother to access video clips because it’s frustrating,” Mambretti says. But running on Abilene, a nationwide network that runs at over 2 gigabits per second-Web-based video could get to you a thousand times faster than it does today. Abilene is an Internet 2 backbone that Cisco, Nortel, Qwest, and the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID)–a partnership of over 125 major research universities–recently announced.

Abilene is unique in supporting what are called differentiated services. “The current Internet is a best-effort service in which everyone is contending for the same resources,” Mambretti explains. “Often, this contention results in people not getting what they want when they want it.”

The next-generation Internet will support different levels of priority and access, which means that some people will absolutely, positively get what they want when they want it. For instance, a radiologist needing to view an X-ray right away would have priority over someone requesting a price on a pair of jeans. “It’s a good idea for medical practitioners and other people dealing with emergency situations to get higher priority,” says Mambretti.

Such a system would also determine that a request for an anatomical image in a million colors would take too long, while a black-and-white image could be delivered right away. Software programs are currently being developed to manage these negotiations.

International Scope

The Center will be international in scope and will work in conjunction with researchers in the Asia/Pacific region, Canada, and Europe. The four areas of research include applications, advanced network infrastructure, middleware, and policy. “Technology is changing so rapidly that it’s moving ahead of established policy issues concerning copyright, privacy, security, regulatory practices, and competition,” Mambretti says.

The Center is an extension of the Metropolitan Research and Education Network (MREN), also headed by Mambretti, which is currently experimenting with an advanced 155-Mbps network-one of the world’s most advanced high-performance networks. MREN has done leading-edge work in virtual reality spaces called CAVEs–computer-automated virtual environments–developed at the University of Illinois. The next generation Internet will link up CAVEs, enabling you to be in more than one place at a single moment.

Although Mambretti doesn’t expect these technologies to reach your desktop overnight, he does expect that they’ll become available to the general public over time. “Like the Internet in the early 1990s, we expect the new applications and solutions to move quickly out of the research world into the business community,” says John Patrick, vice president of Internet technology at IBM.