Web Under Construction: A Northeastern University Professor is Giving the Internet a Mobile Makeover

Posted by erik devaney

Courtesy of 123rf.com

The Internet is a complicated beast, with millions of arms, legs and tentacles all reaching out to make individual connections with millions of computers. Back in the 90s, this type of design — with all of these millions of unique connections — was adequate for supporting our amateur-level web crawling. However, now that we are in the age of smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices, the Internet’s sprawling architecture is largely efficient.

“Today we have a network that is ill-suited for content distribution,” said Edmund Yeh, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern University. “If you want to buy a TV, you don’t call up Samsung in Korea. You go to the nearest Best Buy.”

Yeh’s Best Buy example illuminates the fact that with today’s Internet, users must draw content over and over again from original host websites (Samsung’s headquarters), even when those users are all looking for the same thing (a TV). Yeh’s alternative: store that content online, in a warehouse-like network (your local Best Buy). Once a user accesses content from a website, that content can be cached in a network, which will allow other users to access that content without having to connect to the host website.

Yeh’s new Web architecture is known as Named Data Networking (NDN). The idea behind NDN is “to transform the Internet into a dynamic content distribution network focusing not on machine-to-machine conversations, but rather the fast and efficient matching of demand and supply in the information marketplace,” Yeh told New England Post.

The architecture promises to have “major benefits for mobile communication and computing,” says Yeh, who contends that our current Internet protocol (IP) architecture is not well-suited for mobile. Yeh gives three reasons to support this notion:

First, in order for mobile connections to be functional, IP addresses need to be stable for prolonged periods of times. However, because mobile devices constantly jump between networks, such stability is often impossible. Second, IP architecture cannot effectively handle broadcast communication (one to many), “which is actually one of the greatest potential advantages of wireless.” And finally, with IP, connectivity is an all-or-nothing event; either you’re connected or you’re not. With NDN, “mobile users will be able to access content much more seamlessly on the go… and can also build up local connectivity without necessarily being connected to the larger Internet.”

At least week’s FutureM event, which explored the future of marketing through a series of conferences, competitions and panel discussions, mobile tech was a common theme. The future of mobile seems to be shifting from tweaking current online content so that it is better-suited for mobile devices to designing new content specifically for use with mobile devices. By reconstructing the entire Internet, Yeh is taking this concept of mobile-specific design a step further. “It sounds like a big undertaking,” said Yeh, “and it is.”

A year ago, Yeh was part of an intercollegiate research team that earned $7.9 million in grant money from the National Science Foundation’s Future Internet Architecture Program. Yeh plans on transferring this grant to Northeastern University so he can continue his work.

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Short URL: http://www.newenglandpost.com/?p=4245

Posted by erik devaney on Sep 21 2011. Filed under Featured - For home page featured article, Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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