Technology

Surfing at high speed

A more powerful Internet is quickly approaching

SHOWWEI CHU March 17 1997
Technology

Surfing at high speed

A more powerful Internet is quickly approaching

SHOWWEI CHU March 17 1997

Surfing at high speed

Technology

A more powerful Internet is quickly approaching

SHOWWEI CHU

Perhaps the lecturers at Ottawa’s Carleton University were just not ready for prime time. At any rate, the university learned a harsh lesson about the television business last December when Toronto-based Rogers Cablesystems announced plans to pull the plug on its Ottawaarea educational channel to make room on the dial for a new commercial station. Although the 60 accredited courses offered by the university on the cable channel were never a huge ratings success, they attracted more than 5,000 correspondence students a year and generated as much as $1.9 million annually in tuition fees. The university has applied to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission for its own broadcast licence, but regardless of the outcome, Carleton is determined that the show must go on.

Next time, though, it might not be on TV. Instead, Carleton is hoping to jump aboard CA*net II, a faster, more powerful offshoot of the Internet that, among other advantages, will have the capacity to carry highquality audio and video transmissions. The university plans to begin live broadcasts of four courses over CA*net II on a trial basis in the coming weeks. “If that proves successful, then we can possibly start including all 60 courses in this way,” says David

Sutherland, Carleton’s director of computing and communications services. And unlike local cable TV, the new computer network should eventually give Carleton a shot at a wider audience. “It could provide people with education in their own towns,” says Sutherland. “It could help them avoid the travel costs, and make lectures accessible to people incapable of moving.”

The conventional Internet already reaches around the world, but for many applications it is simply not up to the job. For one thing, the Net is increasingly overloaded. “There are so many people now using the Internet, and the amount of information being transferred is so massive, that it is having difficulties keeping up,” says David Wortman, a computer science professor at the University of Toronto who advises the university on computer resources.

In particular, the telephone lines that link computers on the Internet are often hardpressed to handle the enormous chunks of data required for full-motion video images and sound. CA*net II—shorthand for Canadian network II—is designed to accommodate video feeds for such purposes as long-distance education and medical conferencing, which allows patients to confer with doctors hundreds or thousands of kilometres away. “You’ll be able to provide multi-

media information of very high quality, com parable to broadcast,” says Andrew Bjerring president and chief executive officer o CANARIE Inc., a nonprofit company that i; helping to develop the new network.

The organizers of CA*net II are among ar increasing number of groups around the world whose goal is to create new informa tion highways that are faster and more reli able than today’s Internet. Last October, U.S. universities—frustrated by Interne' slowdowns during peak hours and frequen' service interruptions—announced a plan tc connect to one another through a new net work of high-speed cables, dubbed Internei II. In a separate initiative, U.S. President Bil Clinton pledged last fall to contribute at leasi $100 million annually for the next five years to the creation of the so-called next generation Internet, which would be 1,000 times faster than today’s Internet and intended exclusively for computer researchers.

North of the border, some Internei watchers warn that Canada is in danger o1 falling behind the United States in the development of faster, more sophisticated computer networks. Right now, there is nothing to stop U.S.-based services from eventually dominating the on-line world ir Canada, says Bill St. Arnaud, CANARIE’s director of network projects. “The Internei is a wide-open ball park, and anybody car come in and offer these services,” he says. “If we don’t do this first, you can be damr sure the Americans will be up here rea] quick and do it for us.”

To keep that from happening, CANARIE is recruiting universities, businesses and research groups to help develop CA*net II About 140 participants from organizations including regional telephone companies and other major telecommunications carriers, re cently attended a workshop in Toronto to hammer out their roles in the creation ol CA*net II. Beginning as early as next month, the new network will go into operation for universities and specialized research institutes. Once it is fully established—probably within two to three years—CANARIE expects to turn ihe network over to one or more telecommunications companies, which will charge individuals or corporations for the extra capacity and speed offered by CA*net II. In effect, the Internet would then become a two-tiered system, with a basic service thaï is accessible to everyone and a faster, more powerful service for those who are prepared to pay extra. “They’ll both be interconnected, but companies will buy business class so they know that their information will gel through,” says St. Arnaud. Eventually, those companies and other users will gain access to an international audience as similar highcapacity networks around the globe are linked together. By then, Carleton University’s faculty may find themselves lecturing tc students around the world.