Cerf: Streaming network crunch could be eliminated

While Internet carriers may fret about Netflix, Hulu and other streaming media services saturating their bandwidth, Internet forefather Vint Cerf has a simple answer for this potential problem: Increase bandwidth exponentially.

With sufficient bandwidth, streaming video services of prerecorded content wouldn't be necessary, explained Cerf, who is now a technology evangelist at Google. With sufficient throughput, the entire file of a movie or television show could be downloaded in a fraction of the time that it would take to stream the content.

Cerf, speaking at Juniper Network's Nextwork conference, held Wednesday in New York, spoke about the company's decision to outfit Kansas City with fiber-optic connections that the company claims will be 100 times faster than broadband services commercially available.

The purpose of the project was "to demonstrate what happens when you have gigabit speeds available," Cerf said. "Some pretty dramatic applications are possible."

Interviewed by veteran computer reporter Steven Levy, Cerf explained what could be done with all this bandwidth. One obvious application is greater access to high-definition video, he explained.

"When you are watching video today, streaming is a very common practice. At gigabit speeds, a video file [can be transferred] faster than you can watch it," he said. "So rather than [receiving] the bits out in a synchronous way, instead you could download the hour's worth of video in 15 seconds and watch it at your leisure."

"It actually puts less stress on the network to have the higher speed of operation," he said.

Beyond this use, Cerf mentioned no other possible uses of gigabit-rate home broadband, but stressed that people will "find new ways of using capacity that you never thought of."

Google's demonstration may be one that Internet carriers will watch closely. In October, broadband network services provider Sandvine reported that in the United States, streaming Netflix content accounted for more than 20% of all downstream traffic during the evening hours. As a result, Internet service providers have grown nervous about the possibility of streaming services such as Netflix consuming all their available bandwidth.

Cerf, who helped design the Internet's base TCP/IP protocols, also addressed a number of other issues, such as Google's stance on network neutrality and his work on the Interplanetary Internet.

Last year, Google and Verizon introduced a proposal for establishing rules in the United States for maintaining an open Internet. The pitch for open access, however, was widely criticized for excluding mobile access.

Cerf explained that the reason the two companies did not define rules for mobile access was that they could not agree on what rules should be in place for wireless.

"The fact is we couldn't come to an agreement about what to do with wireless, and since we couldn't come to an agreement, we didn't say anything," he said. He noted that the subject of wireless Internet access is a highly contentious one, "so therefore one has to be more thoughtful about its management."

"I hope that access to broadband in all of its forms, wired and wireless, will be equally accessible to everyone," he said. "We simply don't want access to the broadband channels to be used in an anti-competitive way."

Cerf also offered an update on the Interplanetary Internet, an Internet Engineering Task Force working group to establish protocols for extending Internet capabilities to spacecraft.

"We've implemented the protocols. They are on board the Space Station," he said. The development team, managed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is working with the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS) to get it widely adopted by space agencies.

"We are hoping now that the protocols will be adopted by all the space-faring nations, so that all of our spacecraft will be able to communicate with each another in a standard way," he said.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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