University of Memphis Professor Develops "New Internet" 

Q&A with Dr. Lan Wang

A "new" internet is around the corner, one that is faster and more secure. Researchers across the country, including some at the University of Memphis, have been hard at work designing new digital architectures.

Dr. Lan Wang, an associate professor of computer science at U of M, and her team (a postdoctoral fellow, four graduate students, and several undergraduate students) are developing an architecture design called Named Data Networking, which could completely erase and replace the current internet model.

Wang said the changes will affect how and where data is stored and shared. A typical digital consumer will not need to understand the differences, she said, but can expect fast data downloads and better online security.

click to enlarge flyby_q_a-w.jpg

The National Science Foundation (NSF) started the hunt for a new internet in 2010 with up to $8 million in grant funds to be used by each of four research teams. Wang and her team here collaborate with researchers at UCLA, University of Arizona, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of California San Diego, Washington University, University of Michigan, and Colorado State University. The entire research team just received another $5 million in NSF grant funding in June to continue its work for the next two years. — Toby Sells

Flyer: What is the "new" internet? 

Wang: In the "new" internet, every piece of data has a unique name. Users [or more precisely, their applications] retrieve data by the names [instead of addresses]. The data can be stored anywhere — on your phone, desktop, laptop, iPad, remote server, router, etc. 

As long as a device has the named data, it can serve the data. The recipient can also store the data to serve others. This allows much more efficient and scalable data distribution. The network only needs to deliver a YouTube video once over each link, even to millions of users watching at different times. 

Now what about security? Every piece of data is signed by its creator and can be verified by anyone. The creator can also encrypt the data so that only people with the right key can unlock it. Security is a built-in feature of the new internet, not an after-thought.

What will change for consumers?

The new internet allows every consumer to be a publisher of their data using their own devices. Today, only large companies [such as CNN] can afford to pay for the type of content delivery services that can reach millions of users and give them a pleasant experience. But the new internet provides this service to anyone who wants their content to reach millions of people. 

Consumers no longer need to move and sync data manually as the devices will automatically share data seamlessly. Consumers can spend time on more productive things [such as watching one more episode of their favorite TV show over the internet]. As the internet will be much more secure and support mobility much better, I believe consumers will be able to use the internet even more with much less constraints.

Is the current internet structure out of date?

Yes, the current internet was designed for conversations between fixed points. It was not meant for large-scale data distribution. It also lacks support for security and mobility.

When will the new internet be switched on? 

There is no flag day for switching on the new internet. It will be deployed incrementally. It will be tried out in some parts of the internet first, like universities, research labs, and small companies. More and more places will adopt the new internet and they will interconnect with each other to form an overlay. Gradually it will spread to the entire internet.


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