Businesses today rely increasingly on the Internet for promoting themselves and selling their wares. Consumers have too, making e-commerce a fact of our everyday lives. Dr. Lawrence Roberts, a key founder of the original Internet called ‘ARPANET’ believes that 99% of us will be online by 2018, and that everyone will possess a mobile wireless Internet device.
These will be secure, hold our personal information, and allow us to make payments, work as a GPS and universal remote control. He was speaking at the World Hi-Tech Forum – Focus on India, organised by the London based British Institute of Technology and e-Commerce (BITE).
Dr. Roberts designed ARPANET in 1967. It was an experimental research project, which aimed to develop the technical ability to connect computers together over a network. By 1971 it connected the east and west coasts of the United States and he began working with the United Kingdom, but it was far away from the Internet as we know it today.
Its beginnings were academic and centred on defence, only opening up to commercial use as late as 1991.
His key note speech focused on the lack of fairness in terms of the Internet capacity created by Peer-to-Peer (P2P) multi-flow applications, not that we are necessarily running out of bandwidth, but more about an existing imbalance.
The ‘equal pay’ aspect of his speech considered the high cost that businesses and consumers pay for accessing the Internet, with some people having greater internet capacity for the same price as others who will be paying the same price for less. P2P networks are cited as the culprit with 5% of users congesting the network by taking up 80% of its capacity. Many small businesses will be using one or more P2P applications. Skype, the instant messaging and Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VOIP) telephony software program is one very popular example that is used by small businesses and consumers alike. In the consumer space its widespread usage is based on file sharing from music to photos, and Napster was of the first to use this kind of network architecture.
Now heading up his own commercial company, Anagran Inc, Dr Roberts foresees that internet usage over the next ten years is quite likely to grow as follows:
Total Traffic PB/month 3,200 191,000
Traffic per User GB/month 2.2 26
GB/mo/user Developed areas 2.7 156
GB/mo/user Less Dev. areas 0.5 3
This means people in less developed areas will have more capacity than is available in developed areas today! Also, users in developed areas could see 3-10 hours of video per day (HD or SD) this requires a 60 times increase in capacity (Moore’s Law increase).
Video Quality Poor - Packet Loss, Delay Jitter, VoD can be too slow, you cannot determine if a quality path exists, also separate Networks are needed for Voice, Data and Video. Fairness is missing – and Multi-flow applications overload the Internet. Currently P2P is reducing throughput of normal users. High costs, power requirements, size of equipment. Major reductions in all of these are possible and essential. Emergency Services need preference priorities which are currently lacking. Security, this needs user authorization and source checking. People must know who they are connected to.
Voice and Video are now totally moving to packets in order to achieve low loss, low delay (and delay jitter) required. Broadband Edge, this must control Edge Traffic. P2P utilizes TCP unfairness as multiple flows congest networks – 5% of users take 80% of capacity
Dr Roberts therefore calls for what he describes as a revised equality rule, which will allow similar users to gain equal internet capacity for what they pay for access. “If the network assures that all similar users get equal service, file sharing will find the best equitable method – perhaps slack time and local hosts”, he says while warning that the service will deteriorate over time, which will affect businesses ability to operate online – causing the Internet to slow down as the congestion increases. Businesses needn’t be alarmed, he doesn’t denounce P2P networks; he says they can be quite effective. With a more equitable network based on similar users, file sharing will find the best way to handle capacity.
The trouble is that P2P networks simply don’t know the boundaries of ‘fairness’, nor do most users realize that by using P2P applications they could be slowing down and stalling others on the network. Roberts says this leads to “globally un-economic product decisions.” The technical policy from the early days of ARPANET of ‘Equal capacity per flow’ has to now become one of ‘equal capacity per user’, considering that the flows of data across the Internet are now managed by computers and not human beings. Within the equitable world that he describes P2P applications, for both businesses and consumers, will still work and perhaps even prosper. A reliable Internet is good for business productivity too.
Dr Roberts has designed a new concept in flow management, the Anagran FR-1000, where each flow is precisely rate controlled at input rather than randomly at output. The flow manager only requires 20% of the power and is the size of an L3 router. It virtually eliminates queuing delay and packet loss for both file transfers and streaming media, optimized network utilization, and improved fairness. Thus, instead of the idea that Quality of Service (QoS) will increase the complexity and cost of a network, the QoS could be greatly improved with less complexity and at the same time reducing network costs by eliminating the need for overcapacity. This development in flow management can easily be added to any network, allowing ‘fairness change’ to be “equal capacity for equal pay”. This should keep multi-flow applications from drowning the net while eliminating delay and jitter. TCP data throughput is improved thereby moving Voice and Video quality from fair up to great. In addition this system will facilitate the virtual separation of traffic into rate controlled classes, while eliminating packet loss and delay through overload and provide comprehensive flow records for all traffic improving our understanding of network traffic & problems, allowing for an enhanced and more reliable service to customers which can only be a good thing.
A report by Reuters suggests that e-commerce sales will equate to £59.8bn this year - a 28% increase over sales in 2007. Without Dr. Roberts early work at ARPANET e-commerce wouldn’t exist, nor would the modern Internet. They are both his amazing legacy. These achievements were recognised by BITE, leading to an award for his ‘Contribution to e-Commerce’ at the Science Museum in London on 7th October 2008. The award was presented by Mukal Gupta, the associate vice president of Infosys Technologies UK.
“The Forum awarded those we feel have excelled in their field, and those who have contributed to the development of new global business and technical opportunities – and Dr. Roberts is but one of those important people from whom we can all learn”, says the conference chair, BITE’s Dr Muhammad Farmer. The conference returns in 2009.