As the internet continues to integrate itself into the daily routine of millions of people worldwide, the narrow possibilities of current download and viewing speed continue to constrain the amount of information that is accessible and how fast it can be retrieved. The government, in conjunction with numerous computer and telecommunications companies, has set forth the Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative. Experts predict that in the next few years, internet users will have more bandwidth than they could ever use.While most NGI connections are currently concentrated on educational institutions and government use, more widespread use is just over the millennial horizon.
Once upon a time, the world revolved around the 14.4 Kbps modem. It was the fastest thing on the market, and nothing could touch it. This lasted about as long as the 586 chip, for it was not long until the 28.8 Kbps modem revolutionized the industry with its “lightening quick” downloads and amazing bandwidth possibilities. Other speeds were pushed by smaller competitors on the modem market, but the next big jump was to 56 Kbps modems. Federal regulations held download speeds to 54 K, but that didn’t matter because finally the technology was starting to emerge that would allow live audio and video streams to make TV obsolete – almost. 10 Mbps and 100 Mbps networks were the standard for businesses and educational institutions, and for the most part they still are.
From personal experience, 10 Mbps connections are amazing, as 8 MB files zip across the network at speeds blasting past 200 Kbps and still climbing as the file transfer is completed. Home users and other smaller businesses now enjoy the speed of cable and ISDN modem connections that rival most networks, and for those with money to burn, satellite connections are the end all for home users.
While this is nice, content on the internet is still limited by what low-end users will tolerate waiting for, which can be rather frustrating to those looking for true real time video and other bandwidth-greedy applications. Here is where NGI comes into the equation.
NGI provides the opportunity for bandwidth able to handle applications that require at least 600 Mbps of bandwidth.Such applications include things like DVD-quality video transmission, real-time VRML (virtual-reality markup language), and language tutors that speak the language to you in a real time conversation better than the natives do.
Don’t rush to the store asking where you can get NGI just yet. Currently, the company with the hold on the market is an MCI conglomeration called vBNS+ (very high performance backbone network service). Most of the computers taking advantage of mutli-gigabyte per second transfer rates have web addresses that end in .edu, and also big research facilities like the National Center for Atmospheric Research.The biggest and best connection by far is MCI’s pipeline connecting Los Angeles and San Fransisco, currently running at speeds at or exceeding 2.5 Gbps.
One example of high speed connections meeting the ordinary human with less than a doctorate degree is illustrated in PCComputing’s article on NGI: “…consider peaceful Ashton, Oregon. Ashland, population 19,000, boasts Shakespeare in the summer, picket fences, and a fiber-optic network connecting everyone in town. On its citywide gigabit network, residents get 3 Mbps to 5 Mbps transfer rates around the clock, giving them some of the highest personal bandwidth rates in the country.”
Does this mean that we will all soon laugh about the good old days when we spent two hours downloading a game demo? Don’t hold your breath yet. Is the future of the internet moving backs to its roots as an educational and business application, only now with full-screen video conferencing and true speed of light downloads? Quite possibly.
The initiative currently is underwritten by a few notable participating agencies with deep pockets.
DARPADefense Advanced Research Projects Agency
DoE Department of Energy
NASANational Aeronautics and Space Administration
NISTNational Institute of Standards and Technology
AgencyPresident’s FY 1998 BudgetPresident’s Proposed FY 1999 Budget
Truly we live in a time when the internet is in every part of many lives. It is a source of news, a way to research quickly, to be entertained, to find a date for Friday night. The day is coming, and in fact very visible, when the internet will jump to the next generation and be able to handle things we can only see in movies and in science fiction novels. NGI is the current plan, and many agencies have committed the money to see that it finds widespread acceptance as the new way to transfer almost everything under the sun. The future may be now, and the internet may be the way to communicate, but many people are aiming to keep communication as true to life as possible for the internet of tomorrow.
“About the Next Generation Internet (NGI) Initiative.” http://www.ngi.gov/sc98/about.pdf November 21, 1999.
Conley, Jim. “Business at Warp Speed.” http://www.zdnet.com/pccomp/stories/all/0,6605,2386414,00.html November 21, 1999.
*actual magazine page used for footnote citations, article accessed from online version.
“How You Can Participate in the Next Generation Internet (NGI) Initiative.” http://www.ngi.gov/sc98/how.pdf November 21, 1999.