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Analyst: Internet2 means wider bandwidth for universities

By CNN Interactive Editor Steve Baxter

April 14, 1998
Web posted at: 5:39 PM EDT (1739 GMT)

(CNN) -- Tuesday's announcement by Vice President Al Gore is an important step in the development of the Clinton administration's Next Generation Internet project. The vast majority of the computing population will not use the wider bandwidth of Internet2, but they will see the benefits of improved Internet traffic, commerce and greater competitiveness for U.S. information technology companies.

CNN Interactive talked to Dan Lavin, senior Internet technology analyst from the research firm Dataquest, to find out more about Internet2 and why it is so important.

Q: What is Internet2?

A: Internet2 is best described as a set of software standards and a hardware infrastructure to go with those standards. It's all about connecting up a lot of faster lines between different locations in the country. That's all it means. It's no different than what's been done for years.

Q: One of the purposes of I2 is to develop new networking technology. When will that technology filter down to us?

A: First of all, who is "us"? The average person is using a 28.8 modem but they could have much faster technology into their home if they so choose. If someone wanted the technology into their home that would be the same as what a medium-sized university would have, they could have it tomorrow. They could have a T3 line into their home tomorrow. It's a matter of how much they want to pay for it. The technologies needed to build the Internet2 already exist. It's just faster, wider and better than what most people use today.

Q: How is it better?

A: It's really wider is what it is. You can't get faster. Everything travels at the speed of light essentially ... everything through copper travels at the speed of light so all you can do is get a wider connection and a smarter connection and a connection that impedes the data less. This is really the key concept. ... It's a little bit complicated ... but over the short haul, for the most part, nothing is "faster" than anything else, it's just wider.

Q: So we're not talking speed but volume?

A: No, bandwidth. ... When your modem connects with another modem, and it's not going through a lot equipment that is screwing it up, and that's a big "if" by the way ... if it's not, it's going to go real fast. Real, real fast. This telephone call happens real fast. It sounds real time. If you were talking to me overseas you would hear a little delay, right? The reason for that is it goes to space and back.

The equivalent of going to space and back for the Internet is going through a whole bunch of routers. These routers might be clumsy and handle things badly and might address data packets in a strange way. ... What the Internet2 technology does is two things. First of all, it puts a very, very, very wide bandwidth on it. They are going to take a backhoe in between strategic points and they're going to wind out into the ground a whole lot of fiber optic cable. In the past it wasn't clear why you would want to do that much fiber, but now it is. Now all the commercial uses are clear.

Q: So it will be a direct connection. You won't be going through the phone companies?

A: Oh, the phone companies will be involved. Other people will be involved at various points, but no one small -- no one that doesn't matter. This is the establishment. This is the railroads of the 1850s. These are the guys who are granted big land grants. They've got the right of way. Then, on top of them building these big trenches, they're going to be doing the routers a lot more efficiently so that they can get more data through those trenches much faster.

Q: There are some big technology companies that are involved in building the I2 (Cisco Systems, Northern Telecom, Qwest, 3Com, MCI). What's in it for them?

A: These companies have been involved in providing technology to the Internet for years. IBM and MCI were among the very early players on the NSF net, the National Science Foundation net, to help them develop their educational connections between supercomputers. What this does is give them a leg up in terms of technology ... as they service their industrial clients, they already have a pretty good idea of what's going on. It's a way for them to stay on top of future technologies and stay at the cutting edge.

Q: Why is the Internet2 project important?

A: It's important because it continues to move the Internet back into the realm of research, where some real strides can be made. We have to have a two-tier data infrastructure in the United States. We have to have it that way so research universities can work with each other on one end, and on the other end have the vast masses working together. What happened is, the vast masses got on to the main exchange and were flooding it. I believe this also impacts our national security in a significant way because our leadership in these fields is critical. This is one of the areas where we are competing with other countries and we are winning and we are winning by a lot.


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