Engineers are testing a new name-based internet

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Efforts are underway to redesign the internet so it can handle billions of mobile devices and smart gadgets.

In 2010, the National Science Foundation (NSF) launched a Future Internet Architecture Project and invited academics to take a fresh look at the internet.

One of the projects NSF is funding is called MobilityFirst. It’s a shift from the current internet protocol (IP)—an elegant, address-based routing technology designed in the 1970s—to name-based routing, says Dipankar “Ray” Raychaudhuri, a professor at Rutgers University who is involved with the project.

“The traffic that comes from mobile devices into the internet has been increasing exponentially. It used to be 10 percent five years ago—now it’s over 50 percent,” says Raychaudhuri.

“As a result, mobile wireless capacity is beginning to run out,” he says. “That’s why cellular operators have to give you data limits. When you try to use a mobile phone and you’re downloading a web page, it stalls unexpectedly at times and you have to wait for the signal to improve. Also, there are all kinds of holes in the security system that need to be fixed.”

Names not IP addresses

An IP address is a unique number for an internet device, according to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which allocates the numbers used to route internet traffic to devices.

MobilityFirst’s name-based approach would be a fundamental change. Names would represent people, mobile phones, internet devices, small sensors, or any other objects connected to the internet, says Raychaudhuri.

“The internet has a lot of duct tape on it.”

Three MobilityFirst trials are underway or planned.

“The internet has a lot of duct tape on it,” he says. “It works very well, but it has some limitations, especially when you try to do more mobile communications. How to re-architect the internet is a very ambitious goal.”

Raychaudhuri says they’re not expecting to rip out the old internet.

“The internet has a lot of nice properties that we don’t want to lose. But one of the challenges for today’s internet is that with all these different modes of communication, some of them such as mobility services, broadcasting or content delivery are not handled very efficiently, and this could lead to flooding the network with too much data.”

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The different modes of communication include the “Internet of Things”—a concept that involves connecting smart objects, such as fitness monitors and smart watches, home thermostats, and lighting, smartphones, and devices with sensors. Smart objects are expected to become pervasive in society, managing energy use in homes, monitoring food consumption, diagnosing health problems, monitoring cybersecurity, and making driving safer, among other benefits.

Some 50 billion smart objects are anticipated by 2020, and 1 trillion sensors soon thereafter, according to the NSF.

“The Internet of Things has a lot of potential, but it needs fast and low delay networks that can ensure that data are received in time,” Raychaudhuri says. “A lot of people are working on how to make cellular networks faster—so-called ‘5G’—and more functional, and many of the goals are similar to what we have in the MobilityFirst project.”

Source: Rutgers University