Internet2 Team Seeks Speedy Apps

SAN FRANCISCO (02/23/2000) - The consortium building the next-generation, ultra-high-speed Internet is looking for a few fast applications. Really fast applications.

The Internet2 effort is sponsoring a Land Speed Record competition "for the most demanding end-to-end, bandwidth-intensive Internet applications in the world." Internet2 representatives will announce the winners at an Internet2 meeting March 29 in Washington, D.C.

The title goes to the application that can prove (either through a live demonstration or verifiable documentation) that it has transmitted the most bits the farthest distance, says Greg Wood, an Internet2 spokesperson.

Likely candidates are those that run some sort of data-intensive application.

The program may send terabytes of scientific data or high-definition television over the Internet2 "backbones" that have been built in the past two years.

Internet2 promises a qualitative leap in performance. The best today's Internet can offer is hundreds of megabits per second. Internet2's developers are eyeing gigabits per second over longer distances, even thousands of miles.

"This is very different than what is possible today," Wood says of the next generation Net.

Here, There, and Everywhere

One eventual possibility, says Wood, is "tele-immersion" applications reminiscent of Star Trek's holodeck. There, holographic representations of widely dispersed people can meet and interact in a virtual "room."

That's the vision of the National Tele-Immersion Initiative, a four-university research community led by virtual reality guru Jaron Lanier. Realistic 3D video has already been demonstrated. Now, the problem is transmitting all that data over two-way Internet2 links.

The first such transmission is expected to occur sometime this year, says Amela Sadegic, senior computer science researcher at Advanced Network & Services, the corporation coordinating the tele-immersion initiative.

But first we need very fast connections, and "lots of bandwidth," Sadegic says.

Without these, the 3D video and audio would be too slow and out of sync to create a virtual reality effect. "Your brain cannot be tricked, and you feel that something's wrong," Sadegic explains.

One group that has already transmitted high-quality video over Internet2 is the Research Channel (formerly ResearchTV), another university consortium. The group transmitted 200-mbps HDTV last October, and five simultaneous HDTV streams totaling 1 gbps of bandwidth last November, according to Amy Philipson, ResearchChannel's executive director.

Philipson wouldn't hazard a guess as to when universities and government agencies--let alone average consumers--would see HDTV multicasts.

Early adopters are likely to include broadcast and cable TV stations, who will use Internet2 streams as an alternative to satellite feeds. The technology is also attractive to video producers, who will use them to share content, and consumers would benefit from those changes.

Internet2 might do to video programming what the existing Internet and MP3 standard have done to music: radically change the nature of distribution and pricing, according to Philipson. It might also make it easier for people to make and distribute their own videos in the same way the first-generation Internet and Web changed publishing and, more recently, music.

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