The Internet is expected to be inundated in the future with billions of gigabytes (or exabytes) of data as high-definition video and other bandwidth-busting downloads become the norm. The cost of upgrading the Internet for this so-called "exaflood" could make Web connections too expensive for most consumers. Internet service providers may be able to keep prices down by opening up an express-lane for large data hauls.
It is estimated that 99 percent of the traffic volume of the Internet is devoted to large downloads -- like movies, medical scans and financial data -- that are only 1 percent of all data transfer sessions. These huge bundles are currently handled in the same way all data is handled by the Internet: the files are chopped up into little packets and then shuffled through traffic. Although this works fine for e-mail and Web pages, says MIT researcher Vincent Chan, it is very inefficient for large streams of data. An alternative, called optical flow switching (OFS), essentially opens a direct line between users that they can use for a few seconds all to themselves.
To reserve a spot on this express lane, users would send a request over the normal Internet. The most that someone would have to wait is a few seconds before data will start flowing. That's plenty fast for most people, but some users will be willing to pay extra to jump ahead in the queue.
Chan says that OFS can reduce the price per bit by 50 times compared to current electronic packet switching. The savings come from a simplified network architecture that has less overhead devoted to processing data address labels. An OFS test bed has been in operation for the last 10 years, connecting U.S. government sites on the east coast. Chan says there is now a "groundswell" of interest in OFS from Asia and Europe.
The research is being presented at the Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exposition/National Fiber Optic Engineers Conference (OFC/NFOEC) -- the world's largest international conference on optical communication and networking -- from March 21-25 at the San Diego Convention Center.
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