Go With The Flow, Says Arpanet Founder

One of the 'fathers' of the Internet says the global IP network's transport layer needs an overhaul.

Iain Morris, International Editor

September 25, 2014

2 Min Read
Go With The Flow, Says Arpanet Founder

LONDON -- Ultra-Broadband Forum -- Operators are used to thinking about access network bottlenecks and how to overcome them, but all the investments in bandwidth-boosting fiber access networks could mean little if there isn't a dramatic overhaul at the transport layer of the network.

That's according to Lawrence Roberts, anyway, and, as the founder of the Arpanet and one of the 'fathers' of the Internet, Roberts is a figure whose opinions would seem to count.

Speaking at Huawei's Ultra-Broadband Conference in London Thursday, Roberts, currently the chairman of Anagran Inc. , which develops network management products, issued a stark warning for operators about the limitations of the TCP transport technology that underpins the modern-day Internet.

"We are not going to get the throughput we need for 4K and 8K video or the latency we need for online gaming without changing the network," he told attendees gathered at the conference. "TCP is too erratic."

As Roberts explained, TCP wasn't conceived with today's bandwidth-hungry services and applications in mind and it is struggling to cope with soaring volumes of Internet traffic, simply discarding packets when networks are overloaded.

This feature of the technology is part of its original design, ensuring the network remained stable, but its effect is to significantly reduce throughput and increase delays for customers using online services.

That might not matter when it comes to simple Web browsing or even the use of video services, but it could rule out the future introduction of sophisticated applications such as remote-control surgery and robotics.

So what’s the answer?

Roberts was obviously keen to promote a new technology he has developed as the successor to TCP.

Called Flow State Aware (FSA), this could have major benefits for operators looking to address poor latency on their networks.

According to his data, an operator using FSA would be able to move a 1-megabit load in just 64 milliseconds, compared with 2.5 seconds with TCP, if the network were operating at 60% of capacity.

The aim is to ensure that delays are reduced to the point where the Internet can operate at "human response times," which is critical in the case of certain aforementioned applications.

Even so, FSA appears to have been around for some time and it has yet to be brought to market in any commercial fashion, although Roberts is optimistic this will happen "in the next year or so."

Roberts noted: "Ultra-broadband will not improve capacity until there is a change in overload control. These protocols can be implemented, but they haven't been and it’s important that changes."

— Iain Morris, Site Editor, Ultra-Broadband

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About the Author(s)

Iain Morris

International Editor, Light Reading

Iain Morris joined Light Reading as News Editor at the start of 2015 -- and we mean, right at the start. His friends and family were still singing Auld Lang Syne as Iain started sourcing New Year's Eve UK mobile network congestion statistics. Prior to boosting Light Reading's UK-based editorial team numbers (he is based in London, south of the river), Iain was a successful freelance writer and editor who had been covering the telecoms sector for the past 15 years. His work has appeared in publications including The Economist (classy!) and The Observer, besides a variety of trade and business journals. He was previously the lead telecoms analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, and before that worked as a features editor at Telecommunications magazine. Iain started out in telecoms as an editor at consulting and market-research company Analysys (now Analysys Mason).

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