Internet preparing to go into outer space

Internet preparing to go into outer space

By Jun Kwanwoo/AFP

Seoul: After expanding across Earth, the internet is now set to spread into outer space to reach parts no network has gone before, one of its co-creators predicted Wednesday.

Vinton Cerf said the proposed “interplanetary" internet would allow people an ability “to access information and to control experiments taking place far away" from Earth.

Expanding into the solar system would bring new rules and regulations too, he told an annual Seoul forum, saying he and other experts were working on a set of standards designed to guide space-era Internet communications.

“Finally, the internet can take us where no network has gone before," said Cerf, who is Google’s vice president and chief internet evangelist,

He said he and a team of engineers at the California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory would complete a key part of the project, establishing standards for space communications like those for internet, in three years.

Cerf told a separate news conference that new standards were needed because of the huge distances and time delays involved in communication across space.

He went on: “This effort is now bearing fruit and is on track to be space qualified and standardized in the 2010 time frame.

“Eventually we will accumulate an interplanetary backbone to assist robotic and manned missions with robust communication."

Cerf, seen as a founding father of the internet with Robert Kahn, marveled at its explosive growth in the last decade, saying it was a trend that would continue.

The number of internet users has grown 20-fold in the past decade to about 1.2 billion people this year, with the number of computer servers rising from 22.5 million to 489 million, he said.

“Eventually," he added, “the entire world will have access to the services that are available on the internet."

One of the outstanding changes was the internet’s huge growth in Asia which now boasts 436 million users, well above the figures of 321 million in Europe and 233 million in North America, the birthplace of the web, he said.

“That there are so many users in Asia suggests the content of the internet will eventually contain far more information in languages other than English than it does today," he added.

Technological changes were occurring to keep pace with the expansion, with one of the key challenges being a shortage of internet addresses.

The internet currently allows only 4.3 billion unique addresses -- plenty back in the 1970s but not enough, said Cerf, who also chairs the board of the internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

He said ICANN, which manages domain names and addresses, was preparing to launch a new format accommodating 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses.

Cerf said ICANN would meet later this month to discuss expanding the number of characters used for internationalised domain names (IDNs) such as .com or .net, which now only adopt Latin and Roman ones.

“Sometime in the first half of 2008, I expect, there will be opportunities to register IDNs using different languages other than Latin," he said.

He said he expects “billions of internet-enabled devices" to emerge, with items to cover nearly all home appliances such as televisions, radios, kitchen equipment, fax machines and printers, refrigerators and bathroom scales.