MIT Design Could Speed Up the Internet

MIT researchers have developed technology that they say not only will make the Internet 100 to 1,000 times faster, but also could make high-speed data access a lot cheaper.

The trick to such dramatic performance gains lies within the routers that direct traffic on the Internet, according to Vincent Chan, an electrical engineering and computer science professor at MIT, who led the research team. Chan told Computerworld that replacing electrical signals inside the routers with faster optical signals would make the Internet 100 times -- if not 1,000 times -- faster, while also reducing the amount of energy it consumes.

What would the Internet be like if it ran that much faster? Today, a user who has a hard time downloading a 100MB file would be able to easily send a 10GB file, according to Chan.

With increasingly powerful computer processors and bandwidth-hungry applications, the Internet will reach a "choke point" within three to five years, Chan said.

Today's routers have trouble dealing with incoming fiber-optic signals, so those signals are converted into electrical signals that can be stored in memory until they can be processed, according to MIT's report. The electrical signals are subsequently converted back to optical signals so they can be sent back out.

That process eats up time and energy, so Chan and his team developed technology they call flow switching that would eliminate the need for such conversions.

A speedier Internet would be a huge accomplishment, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group. "Right now, the network is the bottleneck for hosted computing. This change could transform the industry as we know it," he said. "We are going to need a faster Internet. We need it now."

However, analysts noted that it would be expensive to replace current routers with the new technology.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an earlier version that first appeared on

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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