ted stevens

bandwith and latency

IBZL (Infinite Bandwidth Zero Latency) is a thought experiment that asks: what will happen when bandwidth (the maximum speed of a connection)  is so great, and latency (delays) so small, that it no longer matters? What will be the applications and services that would most benefit from an IBZL connection to the Internet?

The IBZL program was started in the UK by the Open University (a distance learning and research university) and Manchester Digital (a digital media trade organization). ‘Infinite bandwidth’ and ‘zero latency’ are not meant literally; they are a shorthand for networks where bandwidth and latency cease to be limiting factors.

Next Generation Access (NGA), a telecommunication upgrade that would replace copper cable with optical fiber, is promoted strongly by policy makers as underpinning future economic growth. There is however a lack of examples of the ways that NGA will be used or of the sort of innovations that may come about as a result of widespread access to it. A parallel can be drawn with the advent of first generation broadband which arguably created the conditions for the success of innovations such as Wikipedia, YouTube, and Facebook, but the most innovative aspects of these – open source knowledge, video sharing and always-on social networking – were not foreseen. While there is no universally agreed definition of what qualifies a network to be considered ‘next generation’, three elements are usually considered essential: 1) At least 25 Mbit/s speeds; 2) Symmetrical upload and download speeds (reflecting the demands of increasingly user-generated content); and 3) Low latency (the time taken for data packets to travel from source to destination), jitter (the variation in latency among data packets), and data loss (the loss of data packets due to network congestion).

Several novel concepts emerged from the IBZL workshops. The evolution of next generation networks will be uneven, resulting in a ‘geography of latency’ and the disruption of ‘simultaneous time.’ The kinds of networked application that are feasible between two network locations will be a function of a range of factors including spatial distribution, network infrastructure and the network of relationships between service providers. ‘Latency maps’ would be an enabling tool to identify the kinds of applications possible within/between, technical/geographic, or commercial spaces. The ‘Always on Social Space’ is a virtual space in which the connection is always on/perpetual, supporting the kind of occasional, informal, spontaneous, real-time social encounters (‘collisions’) that happen when people are co-located, between people living and working remotely. This would not only allow a new level of remote working and collaboration but also the sense of living in proximity with friends and relations could transform the lives of older people who need to stay longer in their homes as the population ages. ‘Intelligent matchmaking’ would bring suppliers and consumers together optimally for business, social, and educational interactions. Behind this would be a thorough analysis of organizations, products, and people, made possible by next generation networks, in order to synthesize high quality informational and other connections.

‘Real artisans in a virtual world’ refers to the networked production of artifacts by artisans in multiple locations. Next generation technology could support real-time collaborative generation of product ideas followed by the process of design, development and distributed fabrication. This could turn the conventional trading pattern on its head with artisans in the developing world crafting products for ‘3D printing’ in the developed world, effectively re-engineering (or at least, challenging) current craft value chains. ‘Peer-to-peer processor time-sharing’ projects like SETI@home use the spare processor capacity of millions of personal computers to process batches of number-crunching tasks, coordinated among volunteers by a central ‘master’ application. Next generation networks could allow real time peer-to-peer sharing so that when an application needs additional capacity for processor-heavy tasks like video rendering it could have access to effectively limitless extra computing power.

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