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Networking The Internet Communications Network Upgrades IT

Microwave Comms Betwen Population Centers Could Be Key To Easing Internet Bottlenecks 221

itwbennett writes: Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Duke University recently looked at the main causes of Internet latency and what it would take to achieve speed-of-light performance. The first part of the paper, titled Towards a Speed of Light Internet, is devoted to finding out where the slowdowns are coming from. They found that the bulk of the delay comes from the latency of the underlying infrastructure, which works in a multiplicative way by affecting each step in the request. The second part of the paper proposes what turns out to be a relatively cheap and potentially doable solution to bring Internet speeds close to the speed of light for the vast majority of us. The authors propose creating a network that would connect major population centers using microwave networks.
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Microwave Comms Betwen Population Centers Could Be Key To Easing Internet Bottlenecks

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  • Prior art (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @11:05AM (#49726115)

    ATT had the same idea. In about 1945.

    • Re: Prior art (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Etcetera ( 14711 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @11:10AM (#49726155) Homepage

      ATT had the same idea. In about 1945.

      Was gonna say the same thing.... or MCI, this being their entire business model, really.

      Kids today! ;) Everything old is new again...

      • ATT had the same idea. In about 1945.

        Was gonna say the same thing.... or MCI, this being their entire business model, really.

        Kids today! ;) Everything old is new again...

        I know what you mean. Next we'll be reading an article about client-server renamed to something with a C... It's a crazy world out there.

    • Too bad they've taken down most of the towers in the broadband network.

      • Too bad they've taken down most of the towers in the broadband network.

        This. Many of the microwave towers in my area have been taken down in the last 5 years.

        • by schnell ( 163007 )

          Many of the microwave towers in my area have been taken down in the last 5 years.

          Not really surprising. My guess is the microwave towers (expensive, subject to failures from windstorms blowing radio heads out of alignment or crazy tinfoil hat people who think all RF emissions are evil, etc.) have been replaced by buried fiber optic backhaul, as fiber has become more widely available. I don't think there's any net reduction in bandwidth there.

    • Re:Prior art (Score:5, Informative)

      by stigmato ( 843667 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @11:15AM (#49726215)

      For those who don't want to Google:

      http://www.drgibson.com/towers... [drgibson.com]
      http://www.engineeringradio.us... [engineeringradio.us]

      • Re:Prior art (Score:5, Interesting)

        by BenFranske ( 646563 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @11:24AM (#49726317) Homepage

        I always smile when passing old long-lines towers on the road (or seeing them on top of central office buildings in large cities). You can get an idea of the size and scope of the network at http://long-lines.net/ [long-lines.net] which has some excellent maps such as http://i.imgur.com/HI0cMJ1.jpg [imgur.com] showing the network.

    • Actually AT&T deployed this network in the US. It was reserved as a backup communications network in case of emergency. However, it's been dismantled. The big relay towers are gone that were installed as a hub in Kansas City, and across the state of Missouri linking Kansas City with St. Louis and beyond.

    • Idiots (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Spazmania ( 174582 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @01:09PM (#49727421) Homepage

      Buffering and switching latency is the main source of delay, not signal latency in the copper and fiber. Microwaves would do exactly nothing to improve the switching and buffering latency. If anything they'd make it worse: light in fiber travels much further than line-of-sight microwave before it has to be regenerated with another delay.

      Who peer-reviewed this paper? Did they know the first thing about networking?

      • Also every wireless signalling system I've ever seen for data tends to introduce a ton more latency with all the processing necessary for high throughput than any wired equivalents. This is even becoming a problem with high speed ethernet since past 10Gbps it's essentially RF modulation schemes again.

  • Finally (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @11:07AM (#49726139)

    I can make a Hot Pocket WITH the internet! Genius.

  • by Rhinobird ( 151521 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @11:11AM (#49726167) Homepage

    So....they're bringing back MCI?

    • So....they're bringing back MCI?

      Not that far back.. It's WORLDCOM to you buddy....

      • MCI is part of Verizon now. So even in 2015, the biggest competitor of AT&T is still (the parent of) MCI.

  • They propose shifting more latency sensitive bits to microwave links. Specifically DNS and TCP Handshakes ya know those top 2 DDOS vectors. We already have protocols to tunnel through DNS. I'm sure that will go so well.

  • by iamwhoiamtoday ( 1177507 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @11:13AM (#49726191)

    .. why we would want to use microwaves for this. Fiber is shielded, and capable of higher throughput. While I can understand using microwaves to communicate with satellites, I don't see why we would use them for communications between two population centers.

    This might just be my dislike of wireless in general, but I don't see how this could solve latency issues...

  • Rain fade. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Microwave networks are extremely susceptible to rain fade, and as such are not a good choice for important data links like these would be. We already have a technology which allows signals to travel at the speed of light and is immune to weather, solar radiation, and nearly anything else short of a major earthquake. It's called single mode fiber optic cable.
    • And multimode fiber for last 100'.

      • by TWX ( 665546 )
        Multimode is good for a lot more than 100'. I've seen 62.5um OM1 push past 1000' with standard SX transceivers, and to 2000' with mode-conditioning cables. With 50um OM3 it gets far better.

        You can also use singlemode for short distances, you just have to put your light meter on and attenuate the signal down to avoid burning-out the receiving end. Most providers that use singlemode tend to use it exclusively so they don't have to carry multiple sizes of fiber patch cords, and while the transceivers are
    • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @11:26AM (#49726335)

      Microwave networks are extremely susceptible to rain fade, and as such are not a good choice for important data links like these would be. We already have a technology which allows signals to travel at the speed of light and is immune to weather, solar radiation, and nearly anything else short of a major earthquake. It's called single mode fiber optic cable.

      I didn't know a hung-over backhoe operator was considered in the same class as a major earthquake.

      What exactly has caused your last three fiber outages? Chances are it was a human behind a stick or wheel, and not Mother Nature.

    • sorry pal, speed of light in fiber is much slower than in air, roughly c divided by cladding index which might be 1.4 or so

    • Depends on what you mean by "speed of light", normally when people say "speed of light" with no other qualifiers they mean "speed of light in vacuum".

      The speed of light in air is near as damnit the same as in vacuum. The speed of light in fiber is somewhat slower. So if latency is king then microwave wins. The reaearchers posit that by pushing the most latency sensitive packets onto a low latency network they can improve overall performace.

      The big issues I see in practice would be

      1: getting anyone to pay fo

  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @11:16AM (#49726227) Homepage

    ... that were slowly dismantled in the 90s because fibre optic was supposedly better would it?

    You have to laugh. Another generation comes along and re-invents the wheel. Again.

    • by jandrese ( 485 )
      They're only talking about it because they're obsessed with latency. Bandwidth over the fibers will be much higher than what you can do with Microwave, and most people would rather have an extra 100Gbps than a few microseconds less latency.
      • Yes, this. Read the article, they are talking about 400Mbps microwave links. That's a drop in the bucket compared with fiber bandwidth. This paper is all about latency above all else. First, I remain unconvinced that RF links are really different than fiber for latency. Second, I'm unconvinced very many people care about the difference of ~5ms in latency (using their numbers) and would consider bandwidth much more important. They point out one particular use case for low-latency, low-bandwidth links like th

  • Rain rain go away (Score:3, Interesting)

    by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @11:16AM (#49726229) Homepage Journal

    Some microwave frequencies are sensitive to the weather.

    I'm not sure if there are any that are weather-insensitive to be useful in a thunderstorm, snowstorm, or in heavy low-lying clouds/foggy conditions.

    • Re:Rain rain go away (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Megane ( 129182 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @11:25AM (#49726323) Homepage
      I remember the bad old days in the '80s when cable TV reception would go to shit on rainy days because they used microwave links to connect their various head ends in a big city. Then they upgraded the whole system to fiber, which turned out to be a good thing years later when cable modems became a thing.
    • by Eric Green ( 627 )

      Yep. Microwave fade. It's inherent in ultra high wavelength transmissions. That said, we have modulation techniques today that have effective error correction, unlike back in the day when this was all done with FM and you ended up losing data when you had poor conditions. Think about how your mobile phone gets massive bandwidth and reliability out of OFDMA (LTE's downlink technology) under much worse propagation conditions in city canyons, and scale that to microwave frequencies.

      That said, given the bandwid

  • Fiber is fast! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spaceyhackerlady ( 462530 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @11:22AM (#49726283)

    Fiber is amply fast.

    The bottleneck is the cavalier attitude of web designers to network resources. You do not need to load 25 different URLs (DNS lookups, plus autoplay video and all the usual clickbait junk) to show me a weather forecast. Or a Slashdot article, for that matter...

    ...laura

    • Re:Fiber is fast! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ArcadeMan ( 2766669 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @11:31AM (#49726389)

      And a dozen javascript libraries for stupid shit like mouse-overs that should be done in CSS anyway, or high resolution background images that are 2MB JPEG downloads that use over 6MB of RAM each once decompressed. Backgrounds aren't meant to be high-resolution, crisp and detailed. Learn to use background-size: cover, it works well even with lower resolution images because stretching will blur them a bit, making the compression artifacts even less noticable.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by SirSlud ( 67381 )

      Sure, let's solve this problem by ... uh .. what, legislating HTML practices? Brilliant.

    • I came here to say that, plus redirects. It's kind of amazing how fast some pages load when you see how many redirects there are.
    • by _xeno_ ( 155264 )

      Define "fast." This is apparently not about download speed but about latency. The idea is apparently to keep the majority of traffic that doesn't care about latency on fiber and move only that which does to a microwave network. (How do you do that? They didn't say.)

      I'm not sure why they think latency is a big issue. Latency simply isn't a concern for the vast majority of Internet applications. They admit as much in the article and claim the majority of traffic would remain on fiber links.

      So what's left that

      • Latency is a big issue for the web. You start off with a round trip for the dns query, then another couple for the TCP connection (and more if it's SSL), then many more for TCP to figure out the channel capacity and come up to full speed. Our broadband connections are now "long and fat" enough that latency not bandwidth is the limiting factor in how fast a request can be completed in most cases*. Multiply crappy web design that requires large numbers of requests, possiblly from different servers and possibl

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You made my day! :)))

      You have no idea how many wars were fought over: "WHY IS THE SITE SO SLOW?!? Google's fast! Why can't you make us fast like Google?!?"

      Yeah, that was a real mystery to all of us who weren't in product or ads...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Mesh networks, peer-to-peer between nodes (homes/businesses,etc), would be useful for offloading non-time critical applications such as file transfers and open up opportunities for local delivery of online services that eliminate the need to send traffic through major choke points.

  • by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @11:29AM (#49726363)
    I know exactly where. From the 80% of traffic that is useless ads/malware. Oh, and cats. Too many fluffy cat pictures
    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      Not exactly. The slowdowns happen in switches, routers etc that have a heap of software loaded on them that do a lot of other things besides switching and routing such as port duplication (allowing the NSA and other taps), VLAN, L3/4 packet inspection etc etc all of which are done on low-power early 2000's devices (remember how "fast" embedded chips were back then) with crappy, H1B-written software and features bolted on top over the last 2 decades.

      Using microwave links won't help either, it's not the mediu

  • There isn't anything technically wrong with the idea, except for one litttle problem.

    Bandwidth is not infinite, and due to that, it won't scale up.

    This is one of those pie in the sky solutions that simply doesn't scale, and even if it could, would manage to only work by stealing other spectrum, and in the end runs up against the physical fact that there isn't any more spectrum being made: Here's the spectrum chart reality check:

    http://www.ntia.doc.gov/files/... [doc.gov]

    Pick who you are going to kick off.

    • >Bandwidth is not infinite

      Well... in practical finite-but-very-large terms, it's really a matter of how much money you're willing to throw at it.

      You can put up a lot of microwave transmitters, and so long as your receiver is designed to be able to pick out the sources - much like a camera can have more than one element registering 'red' - you can use the same frequency range for all of them.

      As long as neither the receiver or transmitter are moving significantly, this isn't technologically impossible.

      • You can put up a lot of microwave transmitters, and so long as your receiver is designed to be able to pick out the sources - much like a camera can have more than one element registering 'red' - you can use the same frequency range for all of them.

        As long as neither the receiver or transmitter are moving significantly, this isn't technologically impossible.

        Talk to me about the noise floor.

    • by fisted ( 2295862 )

      Care to elaborate what "Fixed" means in that chart?
      Also, wow.

      • Care to elaborate what "Fixed" means in that chart?

        Fixed is referring to fixed station operation. It might be a safety purpose, such as maritime, and cell service towers and microwave. Generally shared with mobiles of course. Most of the time we will look at the other purpose, like "Maritime mobile", and then can figure out the main purpose of the band. There must be some historical meaning to it, because otherwise, it seems kind of redundant.

        Also, wow.

        Especially since the parts we are interested in for computing use - not just microwave, is roughly from 2 GHz and u

  • Lasers would offer the same line-of-sight links, but with much more bandwidth. It could be used with existing cable as a backup for bad weather, just like the microwave proposal.

  • by rockmuelle ( 575982 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @11:42AM (#49726505)

    In Lousiville, CO, I lived in one of the few neighborhoods that was skipped over for broadband in 1999. Sprint setup a microwave service that filled in the gap. Bandwidth was awesome - I was getting 10-30 MBs regularly. The downside was the latency - 100 ms ping times were the norm. I remember trying to play Duke Nuke 'Em with friends and having the unfair "advantage" of disappearing regularly when my client didn't ping back in time. Being line-of-site, there were also issues with trees occasionally swaying in front of the dish (a pizza box attached to my roof) and snow blocking the signal.

    As others have pointed out, microwave Internet isn't something new and, unfortunately, in the real world isn't a perfect solution.

    -Chris

  • Does anyone besides gamers and high frequency traders care about latency? I manage a server farm on the other side of the country, and latency is not an issue at all for interactive use whether typing at the command line using ssh or using RDP to connect to a Windows server. For the general internet user, I don't see much utility in cutting round-trip latency in half from the current 60ms I'm getting now to the 30 ms a speed of light connection would give. (though there'd be additional latency from all of

    • If you play multiplayer online games, latency is a big issue.

      If you talk to people over the internet, latency is an issue. Like, you say something in Skype. The person at the other end hears it and replies. By the time you hear the reply, a regime change has taken place and there's a new president in power. Currently internet video chatting over long distances is an unpleasant experience due to the lag.

      • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

        If you talk to people over the internet, latency is an issue. Like, you say something in Skype. The person at the other end hears it and replies. By the time you hear the reply, a regime change has taken place and there's a new president in power. Currently internet video chatting over long distances is an unpleasant experience due to the lag.

        http://www.voip-info.org/wiki/... [voip-info.org]

        Callers usually notice roundtrip voice delays of 250ms or more. ITU-T G.114 recommends a maximum of a 150 ms one-way latency. Since this includes the entire voice path, part of which may be on the public Internet, your own network should have transit latencies of considerably less than 150 ms

        I'm already getting cross country ping times of 65ms (round trip), so to be compliant with ITU-T G.114, my codec has 235 ms to do its work. I regularly talk on the phone with colleagues on the other side of the country using a VOIP system hosted here, and haven't noticed any latency problem. Even video calls using our Polycom have good latency (but not great, there's still a noticable lag, even when connected to local users)

        I find voice latency on cell phones (even local c

  • Perhaps we will have less snow to shovel then.

  • I have an idea (Score:4, Interesting)

    by slashmydots ( 2189826 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @12:09PM (#49726781)
    Remove all the government spying crap. That would probably speed it up a bit.
  • by CanadianMacFan ( 1900244 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @12:14PM (#49726841)

    Canada had a microwave network across the nation by the end of the 1950s.

    https://www.historicacanada.ca... [historicacanada.ca]

  • Why? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @12:15PM (#49726849) Homepage

    Just use the frigging dark fiber that is already running between them.

  • people in there ivory towers, ... I mean microwave towers -- trying to be relevant.
  • Now no one's garage door opener will ever work again.
  • by g0bshiTe ( 596213 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @01:13PM (#49727459)
    Why would ISP's want to upgrade to provide us with higher speeds? They've already been heard saying what we have is enough?

    They will continue business as usual overcharging us for their wares and delivering nothing.
  • The only reason they're thinking it has less latency is because they're only considering a point-to-point case.

    Once you wire that up to the various hubs and routers of the underlying DSL or cable infrastructure, or try to send traffic to somewhere other than the end-point the microwave is connected to, your latency rapidly goes to shit.

    Add in the fact that fiber can transmit over longer distances, the weather-induced degradation of most microwave links, the fact that the whole link drops when a semi-tr

  • For faster Internet they clearly wants more bits to move as photons, at the speed of light through fibre. Nothing is faster (latency, throughput, bandwidth), and all the nearby alternatives including microwave as more expensive and less reliable.

    The organizations that had microwave towers for communications, namely telecommunication companies and media broadcasters, have long since migrated to a) satellite or b) fibre for their primary connections. The only microwave links that I know of locally (~100km) ar

  • by Aqualung812 ( 959532 ) on Tuesday May 19, 2015 @04:34PM (#49729477)

    I remember getting a request for a cluster that was proposed to be split between a midwest USA site and London. Conversation was something like this (not exact numbers, but I did do the math at the time):

    PHB: We need less than 50ms latency.
    Me: Can't be done. We're at around 120ms right now with 10ms jitter using VPN.
    PHB: What about MPLS?
    Me: That might get us to 115ms with 5ms jitter.
    PHB: Well, we have to come up with a solution. What else can we do?
    Me: Slap Einstein? This is a physics problem, not an IT problem.
    PHB: This is OUR problem to solve.
    Me: Ok, if we buy our own glass, lay it in a straight line between us and London, which also includes some sort of housing for it that I don't know exists that would prevent issues with freezing/melting/icebergs, we'd end up with 72 ms.
    PHB: So there really isn't anything we can do...*starts walking away*
    Me: Hold on! I have another idea! We can tunnel through the earth, and skip the water issue if we can come up with a new type of shielding that can withstand tectonic forces and heat. That will allow us to get to 55 ms since we're not dealing with the curvature of the earth! Will that work?

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