The European Commission to stop Buffering

Viviane Reding, Vice President of the EC and Josh Silverman, former President of Skype.

Viviane Reding, Vice President of the EC and Josh Silverman, former President of Skype. (EC Audiovisual Services)

At last some good news for the European online gamers and Skype users. The European Commission has decided to fund a big research on how to fight internet lagging and make European Internet move faster without the need to have expensive changes in the network infrastructure.

Following the steps of the increasing American research on how coded TCP protocol can fight network latency, a big three year research project started last November in Europe. In the research participates the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, Simula Research Labs in Norway, the University of Oslo and the Karlstad University of Sweden together with researchers from BT, Alcatel-Lucent Bell in Belgium and Institut-Mines in France.  The name of the project is Reducing Internet Transport Latency (RITE) and is being funded with €3.57m by the European’s Commission Framework 7 programme.

The project’s concept is based on the fact that it is neither bigger nor more expensive bandwidth that the user needs for the connection to be faster. Instead, the solution to the latency of the European web would be to examine how long it takes for someone to complete the task on the web. This can be accomplished according to the RITE people if the TCP protocol of internet communication can be revised successfully.

Andreas Petlund, Rite’s project coordinator, believes that “Every time you click on a web page or encounter a new scene in an online game there are all manner of things going on ‘under the hood’,”…. “This depends on how long it takes for even a small message to get from A to B, and how many back-and-forth messages the protocols require even before data transfer can start. Then it can take a few more rounds of messages to get up to speed while the computers sense how much network capacity is currently available.”

Moreover, Professor Gorry Fairhurst from University of Aberdeen states in the University’s media section that “It’s a problem we all notice when you’re using a program like Skype. If anyone else in the house is watching a video at the same time, your video connection becomes jerky and often crashes. This affects gamers who want to play online in real time and companies doing stock training – both end up buying special and expensive internet connections to make these work, but often it’s not more bandwidth that’s needed to go faster – it’s less delay.

We think we can reduce this delay by making a set of small but important changes to the way computers and the network process the internet data.”…. “We’re trying to change TCP so that it works better with thin applications — applications that don’t send a huge amount of data and aren’t really interactive, like media streaming and conference calls,”… “We would make a small change to the timer mechanism so that you can recover data when you send a burst and lose part of it — it can take quite a lot of time to recover one lost packet — and we also have to do something to the way the congestion window works.

On the other side, to make this work effectively you have to change the way the routers behave as well. People know routers have lots of memory in them, but TCP tends to fill up all the buffers inside. We’re going to make recommendations on how to avoid buffer blocks — this is more directed at operators than people building PC software, but these things have to be done at the same time.”

However, in order for RITE to bear fruit, the contribution of the industry is of critical importance. Professor Fairhurst did not omit to express his reservations concerning the will of Apple, Microsoft and Linux to accommodate this research and contribute to the battle against internet latency in Europe. The reason, of course, is the significant cost that this enhancement would incur to these Internet giants. All eyes now are on the meeting of the 10th of March where the RITE team will discuss in Orlando, USA, with representators of those majour Internet providers on how to collaborate and make Internet faster without necessarily making it more expensive. No matter how profitable this business can be for a few American companies, they need to understand that by having a faster Internet in Europe and also globally, they contribute to building better societies where information moves faster and more effectively.

And if at the end of the day this is too difficult to grasp, perhaps they can see it as an opportunity for extra publicity and simply do their routine, that is to organize a PR campaign in Brussels and try to convince policy makers and Europeans on how much in favour they are of a faster and safer Internet. I think that no matter how tedious, costly and unconstructive lobbying can be sometimes, the RITE initiative is one of the few cases that companies can talk about their social responsibility and at the same time actually do something for the betterment of the modern society.

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  1. Hi! This post could not be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this post to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

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