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DARPA Researchers Work to Speed Up Internet

By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30, 2000 – DoD researchers are working to make Internet connections 1,000 times faster than they are today, which will open up amazing new possibilities for using the Internet.

"Today's Internet does amazing things," said Mari Maeda, project officer for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. "But compared to what it could do, it's really only the tip of the iceberg.

"The Internet has changed the way we live, the way we shop," she continued. "Once we have this new technology in place, and as the Internet evolves, we will be able to do all sorts of new things that are just outside the realm of our imagination today."

Maeda said performance and speed are the main limitations to today's Internet. A person using a high-speed corporate network might download Web pages at speeds of millions of bits per second, but a home user might get only one-tenth or one-hundredth of that speed, she said.

"What we are trying to do is increase that speed by 1,000 times. That will enable you to do tremendous things," she said. For instance, Maeda explained, today's Internet allows users to download digital photographs, but the Internet of the future would allow doctors to share x-ray images, which require much higher resolution, in real time.

She said such an advanced new Internet would have "all sorts of applications" in crisis management, the medical and entertainment professions, and the military. The new Internet would also allow more people to use it at one time, Maeda added.

DARPA researchers are currently working on prototypes of new software and hardware that would enable this high-speed network. They are also working on a test of the new system. Maeda said the test, called "SuperNet" and in its third year, links two or three dozen sites.

"This is not a replacement for the Internet," she said. "It's a network-growth experiment so that researchers can basically field, test and experiment with their new software and hardware and try them out."

Applications for the military might include high-definition radar images seen in real time, more advanced meteorological radar images, and less expensive, high- quality teleconferencing.

DARPA, located in Arlington, Va., is spending $30 million per year over the next five years to get the system up and going. Maeda said continued funding is necessary if the United States wants to stay at the forefront of Internet technology.

"We are basically harvesting a lot of research that we have done in the past three to six years. All of the research that DARPA and other agencies have funded in the past is starting to pay off now," she said. "Unless we continue to fund research and continue to do far-looking research, the world is going to dry up. The U.S. is right now No. 1 in this area, and the U.S. cannot maintain that superiority unless we continue to fund research."

Maeda said the military would likely be the first to benefit from this research, followed by corporate America. She foresees private users upgrading from modems to cable digital subscriber lines over the next several years, and said their 1,000-times-faster Internet service is five to 10 years away.

But DARPA researchers aren't limiting their vision to 10 years in the future. They're even looking at how we'll be able to send the Internet to space, she said.

"One of the farthest-term research projects we are funding is interplanetary Internet -- how we are going to actually extend this Internet to space, to the solar system," Maeda said. "It's not something that is going to happen in the next three to four years, but it's something we need to start thinking about. It will definitely be a real issue in the next 20 years."

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