Playing intellectual catch-up

Neil James, chairman of the Internet2 steering committee formed last year, says New Zealand is lagging behind the rest of the world on next-generation internet.

Neil James, chairman of the Internet2 steering committee formed last year, says New Zealand is lagging behind the rest of the world on next-generation internet.

And not just the US and Europe, but our closest neighbour.

“Australia has several access grids and plans to have 10 by the end of the year, whereas New Zealand has none.”

Access grids are custom-built video-conferencing rooms that use multicasting, one of the key next generation internet technologies, to allow interactive multimedia communication across a dozen or more sites.

James says access grids are just one example of how a next-generation internet network could benefit New Zealand.

Now that the Industry New Zealand-funded report on how to go about bringing such a network to New Zealand is out, the next step is to form a consortium of parties, from the public and private sectors, to take on the project.

“We’re aiming to bring the consortium together by the end of October and to appoint a project manager before the end of the year.”

With the first goals achieved, an operational network should be up and running by September 2003, he says.

On the question of funding, last month’s report calls for $50 million, but how much such a network would can’t yet be pinned down yet, James says. “You can throw all sorts of figures around.”

It is vital that funding be allocated for applications, not just the network, he says. “It must also include funding for the technology that will make effective use of the network.”

A lot remains to be done if New Zealand’s own next generation network is to be up and running in a year’s time, but James says things have come a long way since the Internet2 steering committee was formed last year. “I think we’ve sorted out quite a lot and the direction we’re going in is pretty clear.”

(The project has since dropped the term Internet2 and is now describing the network it plans as next generation internet, or NGI.)

New Zealand’s NGI network will differ from overseas networks in several respects, he says.

First, as suggested in last month’s report, it will be open to commercial traffic and there won’t be the “acceptable use” policies that govern most NGI networks around the world.

“The reason for acceptable use policies is that there has been some desire to separate out research and education traffic and ensure the network isn’t used for commercial purposes.

“However, New Zealand is a small country and one of the problems with acceptable use policies is defining what’s commercial and what isn’t.”

With New Zealand’s network differing in that regard from overseas ones, when peering arrangements with overseas networks are entered into, we will have to show them commercial traffic from New Zealand won’t be sent to their network, but that can be easily done, James says.

(The report notes such an arrangement is achieved by Australian NGI network AARNet, which separates commercial traffic at a border router in Sydney and forwards it to commercial networks).

The report identifies many potential users of an NGI network, including the science, research and biotechnology sectors and the film production and post-production industry.

Perhaps more surprisingly, it also says the Probe regional broadband initiative, announced in this year’s budget, could piggyback off an NGI network, as has happened in north America.

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