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Internet could be 10 times faster than it currently is, researchers say

June 15, 2011
Could the Internet just stop working one day? With bandwidth requirement increasing annually as the web becomes an ever larger part of the everyday life, keeping up is a challenge for Internet service providers. A European telecommunications cluster CELTIC-Plus project is pushing capacity upwards.

Internet access is something that governments, businesses, organisations and individuals now take for granted. But for how long? As bandwidth requirements increase due to greater numbers of users, social networking, video on demand and more, advancements in delivery are needed and laying more and more optic cables has been seen as the only solution. The 100GET project, 100GET stands for 100 Gigabits Ethernet, combined some of the largest networking and telecommunication companies in Europe.

With coordination assistance from EUREKA, they pushed capacity from 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) past initial plans to 40GbE all the way to 100GbE. By focusing on both the data transfer and networking aspects, efficiencies have been found that ensure bandwidth capacity for the Internet can be increased dramatically.

Growing too fast

The European Commission's Digital Agenda contains targets that will require an even larger take-up of Internet technologies in Europe than has already occurred if they are to be met. Though, targets have not yet been needed across Europe to cause bandwidth requirements to surge.

It is estimated that traffic growth across the existing infrastructure of the Internet in Europe reaches the awe-inspiring rate of 40% annually. In fact, growth is so strong that when new bandwidth becomes available it is used almost immediately. Our use of on-demand video and photo sharing services accounts for much of this.

According to Dr Rainer H. Derksen, a Senior Research Scientist at Nokia Siemens Networks, one of the lead partners in the 100GET project, "Just increasing the amount of optical fibre will not be enough to cope with the current growth in the Internet traffic. We needed to find remedies that allowed us to use the available bandwidth of optical fibre more efficiently."

A strong partnership

Since the research communities investigating subjects like Internet signal processing are relatively small and its members know each other well, coming to an agreement to work towards 100Gigabit Ethernet was natural for the partners within the project. Since some companies tend to specialise on certain aspects of the communication process, forming a consortium was also quite normal. The EUREKA telecommunications cluster Celtic-Plus was instrumental in organising the group and enabling some partners to apply for funding from national governments.

As Dr Kurt Loesch from Alcatel-Lucent Deutschland explains, "Getting to 100GbE by using the already installed 10GbE infrastructure was a big challenge. At the start of the project, none of us knew if it was even possible. Our target had been 40GbE and even that would have already been challenging. We fixed ourselves limits: essentially, we could only change transmitters and receivers but nothing in between."

Share, but not too much

Such was the scale of research required for this project that it was split into five sub-projects. These sub-projects were led by Alcatel-Lucent Deutschland, ADVA Optical Networking, Nokia Siemens Networks and Ericsson who are all from Germany and Telefonica, the market's leader in Spain.

The sub-projects enabled companies to work closely with universities on elements of the project that met specific company goals. This allowed the sharing of proprietary research and technology to advance individual project elements without the need to also share strategic information with the direct competitors that made up the consortium. However, once the research had been completed, Deutsche Telekom provided a test bed for all of the project's partners.

The total budget of the project was €65 million which was funded partly by the companies themselves and partly by national governments.

Opening a global market

This project shows how big goals and big projects can open great new opportunities. The clients for a project of this size are large telecommunication companies -- the network operators -- globally.

The explosion in data traffic means that demand for technology that can supply increased bandwidth from existing infrastructure is driven by capacity rather than price. This demand means that while the potential sales volumes are low, the price is high. As Dr Derksen says, "If you need capacity, you buy it as soon as the technology comes onto the market."

In total, the project has resulted in 56 patent applications, the creation of 21 new products, the improvement of 15 existing products, the creation of 19 new jobs and the main sales, from which significant financial returns are expected, are not yet factored in. In addition, the potential for the Internet to simply stop one day soon, causing economic and social disruption, is quickly receding.

In other words, the 100GET project is proving to be a great success for all of the companies involved, and both Celtic-Plus and EUREKA.

CELTIC 100GET is a EUREKA project. Founded in 1985, EUREKA now unites 39 European member countries promoting together innovation through the support they offer to enterprises, universities and research institutes. Results stemming from EUREKA projects are everywhere: mobile phone technology; navigation systems; smartcards; special effects in movies; state-of-the-art medical devices and technologies to monitor and limit environmental pollution.

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