MCI VP sees space networking as the future

Looking to the future, Vint Cerf, senior vice-president of technology strategy at MCI and visiting scientist at Nasa's Jet...

Looking to the future, Vint Cerf, senior vice-president of technology strategy at MCI and visiting scientist at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory sees a data network stretching across the solar system and people using home servers to send multimedia content to friends and relatives.

Speaking at the Intel Communications Alliance conference taking place alongside Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco this week, he said TCP/IP would not work for this because it cannot tolerate the delays.

For example, he said, a round-trip transmission between Earth and Mars takes between five minutes and 20 minutes, depending on the planets' positions.

"We had to reinvent a whole new set of protocols that would work in this big-delay, frequently disconnected environment," Cerf said.

A key step will be putting a satellite in orbit around Mars around 2009 that will act as a communications relay between Earth and probes on Mars and elsewhere in the solar system, Cerf said.

"So, perhaps by the end of this decade we will have a two-planet internet in operation, and as the rest of the century unfolds we'll have an interplanetary system," Cerf said.

Meanwhile, servers are likely to become typical household appliances as fast, symmetric broadband technologies such as fiber-based services become available.

The popularity of MP3 music sharing has signalled this trend. The key is to be able to send data upstream as fast as you can receive it downstream, Cerf said.

"Having servers at home with a lot of digital content on it that you're making available to friends and family will be increasingly common ... of course, the intellectual property community will be coming unglued," he said.

Spam and internet-borne attacks are the looming challenges Cerf sees ahead for the internet. The hardest part of fighting spam is finding the spammers, he said.

"If I had the choice to design the network again, I would have put in some automatic authentication capabilities so you could digitally sign packets that were flying across the network from source to destination. We couldn't have done that back then, because the technology didn't exist," he said.

However, better and faster chip technology may provide the capability to work with digital signatures and keep the packets flowing, he added.

But other security threats abound, including in operating systems, Cerf said.

"On the operating system level, we all have to become increasingly determined that we won't accept software when it's released and has serious security flaws in it. We should be indignant about the release of software that hasn't been adequately tested and analyzed," Cerf said.

Stephen Lawson writes for IDG News Service

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