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Move over Internet
Universities plan second lane on Information Superhighway

By Chris Carrol
Houston Business Journal, May 30, 1997

Three Houston universities are ahead of the curve in the development of a better, faster Internet that could turn into an advantage for some local High-Tech businesses.

The University of Houston, Rice University and the Baylor College of Medicine are among a dozen research institutions already hooked up to the National Science Foundation's Backbone Network System, an experimental high-speed network 1000 times faster than the current Internet.

The Houston universities' position in the front of the pack has led Internet 2 -a consortium of about 100 universities developing a new Internet - to choose Houston as one of eventually 20 main point-of-presence sites. Status as an Internet 2 "gigaPOP" site means the area will be a hub for the very high bandwidth network that will link other hubs around the country.

GigaPOP facilities will house highly advanced computer equipment and will be built to withstand any sort of natural disaster.

The private sector won't be able to connect to the network for a few years. But because the fiber optic infrastructure already has been installed for the gigaPOP, Houston may be ahead of other regions without an Internet 2 point-of-presence.

High-bandwidth network connections could have a great impact on businesses, says Ken Kennedy, director of the Center for Research on Parallel Computation, which is headquartered at Rice.

"The impact on industry will be much more dramatic than the current Internet was," Kennedy says. "It will permit businesses to do things they can't do today."

High-quality images and video, virtual reality shopping, collaborative product design and better videoconferencing are some of the improvements Kennedy says to expect out of Internet 2 research.

While private industry, particularly the telecommunications sector, has been influential in providing infrastructure for the development of the new Net, Kennedy says the most important development advances have come from university and government labs. Business has taken a wait-and-see attitude in that area.

"The corporate sector has not been as aggressive, "Kennedy says. "They're still skeptical of whether they can do business the way they'd like to."

He says security and reliability will be two areas of emphasis among those developing the new, improved Net.

The Clinton administration's Next Generation Internet project is supposed to invest $100 million a year to foster research activity - like that being done by the Internet 2 universities - and for construction of a new network infrastructure.

Kennedy, who is co-chair of the president's advisory committee on computers and the Internet, says NGI's goal is to provide 100 sites with connections to networks that are 100 times faster than the current Internet and 10 or more sites with connections at 1,000 times current speed.

Kennedy says any company can already buy high-speed connections from telecommunications companies, but most research institutions can't afford to connect at those speeds. He says it's NGI that is most likely to bring high-bandwidth connections to the private sector at a reasonable cost.

Members of the Internet 2 consortium think the Internet has become too crowded and want to hook themselves up to each other via a very high bandwidth network. Their intentions mirror those of the original Internet, which was designed as a way to transfer research data between universities.

That was before the Internet became clogged with millions of consumer users and commercial interests. Internet 2 hopes to have its universities up and running in the next two to three years. It could be five to six years for private industry and even longer, Kennedy says, before consumer users become part of the next Internet generation.

But local computer expert Al Massey says that the new Internet will end up like the original Internet. Then universities have to start an Internet 3 and Internet 4.

"As soon as the kinks get worked out, private interests will want a part of it," Massey says. "It will become crowded with commercial interests and the academics will be back at square one."

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