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Speakers discuss infrastructure needs for growth of Internet

The Internet is a "fast-moving phenomenon" that has the potential to change the way we work, play, communicate and participate in society, said David D. Clark, head of the advanced network architecture group at the Laboratory for Computer Science, at a conference called "The Internet: Next Generation and Beyond."

Dr. Clark gave an overview of where the Internet is heading at the December 1-2 event sponsored by the MIT Industrial Liaison Program and the Communications Forum as part of the MIT Series on Technology and the Corporation.

The Internet will live up to its hype as a major new social force, but it may not happen as quickly as some have predicted, he said. While the computer industry churns out new software, chips and computers every year, the telephone industry moves more slowly. A major investment in infrastructure is needed to make a significant impact on the speed -- and usage -- of the network. The next 10 years will determine how the tensions between the major Internet industry players will be resolved.

Advances in Internet technology include real-time audio and video, better security and the ability to do more than one thing at a time. Users will not have to sit at a personal computer to access the Internet; the user interface will be designed so they can use the network when and where they need it, instead of having to work around the location of the single "personal" machine.

In the long term, applications will mature in a post-PC world, where networks will be ubiquitous, cheap and easy to use, but not necessarily faster for everyone, Dr. Clark said.

Among the points made by other speakers at the conference:

  • While most of our present-day access networks have come a long way, these are still the bottleneck in the communications revolution, said Adel A.M. Saleh, head of the broadband access research department of AT&T Labs. Saleh, in a talk on the short- and long-term options for broadband access to homes and businesses, said that exciting new broadband access networks technology options are emerging that may fundamentally change the way we live and work.
  • Kai-Yeung Siu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, said he has come up with a way to increase the total number of on-line users on a wireless network, which is limited by bandwidth. While a wireless phone needs to transmit only 10 Kb per second, downloading a web page in a wireless network needs 320 Kb per second. "This new scheme has the flexibility of multiplexing many users with high but bursty traffic rates for applications such as web surfing and data file downloading," he said.
  • Advanced pricing models and secure payment systems will be needed to enable continued growth of Internet commerce, said Lee McKnight, associate professor and director of the Edward M. Murrow Center at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Continued growth "depends on balancing the risks and rewards seen by vendors and consumers who may have more or less valid reasons to suspect that the other is secretly or not so secretly dreaming of dominance on the scale of the Roman Empire or is having strange barbarian dreams of breaking away from the unifying power of the Internet protocol," said Dr. McKnight, who holds a PhD from MIT.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 16, 1998.

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