Internet a growing force to reckon with

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In its short life, Internet has become an agent of revolutionary change and is one of the fastest tools to promote and defend freedom and to facilitate democratic access to information and knowledge. It has emerged as today"s greatest instruments of progress and has gradually become a part of the vital infrastructure of global social, economic, cultural and political life. The Internet"s effect on our lives is pervasive. Over the past decade, the use of e-mail, the web and blogs have become part of the daily routine of more than a billion Internet users.

Today the Internet access touch points have outgrown the traditional PC based Internet browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox) to desktop applications, mobile phones and satellite navigational devices in vehicles and living rooms. More and more people are buying movie tickets, air tickets, travel pacakages, railway tickets, paying bills online.

Online gaming is projected to increase by 141 pc by 2011 in the Asia Pacific Region and mobile gaming to increase by 119 pc by a leading gaming industry. Very soon we will see the dawn of the video age when video will be used for buying, communicating, learning and socializing. Online chat and blogs is reducing the gap between private and public life of the present generation. Cyber cafes have taken over pubs and bars for socializing in spite of the opposing forces of regional borders, copyright, censorship, network blocking, etc.

On the Flip Side

The internet revolution is yet to happen in India, like the way it has happened with cell phones and cable TV. While it"s common to see everyone from auto drivers to senior citizens with cell phones, you will rarely find an auto driver who visits a cyber cafe to check his email. This has to do with opportunity cost involved in spending time in cyber cafes and most importantly the lack of services to target a large part of India. The Internet too largely uses (ASCII) American Standard Code for Information Interchange. This alienates many communities from the boon of computers and Internet.

The fact remains that most of India"s billion people are denied access to the Internet–and not only because they don"t have a connection or a computer. The digital revolution is leaving them behind because they don"t speak English, the dominant language of the Web.

Even if there is room for further growth among English-language users in India, far greater growth could be unleashed. Hindi is the world"s third or fourth most widely spoken language. Yet it is not even in the top 10 languages on the Internet, according to InternetWorldStats.com. A recent trend of regional content is preferred by more and more Internet users.

It is recognized that the content has to be in a language that is understood by many users. In the internet space, this is highly unbalanced currently. 12 out of 6000 popular languages spoken globally account for 98% of web content, with English most prominent among them. Worldwide efforts are on to provide user-friendly tools for language independent search and retrieval, and machine translation of text from English to another language and vice-versa.

Dearth of content in other Indian languages could limit the growth of the number of Internet users in the country as growth is almost saturating among English speaking users in India. Between 5 and 10 percent of India"s population speaks English. (Estimates of the number of English speakers in India vary widely from 5 percent of the population, or 50 million people, all the way to more than 30 percent, or 350 million people). Internet proliferation is difficult within the limited domain of English language content.

A multilingual Internet will increase local interest in Internet content and increase the possibilities for all language groups to share and access information in their own language.

The challenges in increasing local content include the standardization of fonts and Internationalized domain names, an issue the Indian government is already working on. There needs to be relevant content in local languages (price of crops for farmers, weather conditions for fisherman etc) to see use of the internet in rural India. Some small steps are being taken to increase local language content but it is too early to say whether they have in any way spurred Internet usage.

Different internet products in India have different audiences, a good portion of Indian net users are still constrained by what the Indian net has meant to them: thus far, everything-in-one portals such as Rediff and Sify. In the context of entertainment, lifestyle and recreational activities, local language versions have a niche market.

Local language newspapers have gone online, webduniya.com offers content in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam and a government-led project Vidyavahini, which aims to use the Internet to train teachers and provide educational materials on the Internet, plans to develop content in Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and Bengali, in addition to English.

Tomorrows Internet - Internet2.0

The incubator for many of the emerging technologies shaping the future is known as Internet2. Formed in 1996 and administered by the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID), Internet2 is a partnership between universities, corporations and government agencies to create new applications that can"t run over the existing Internet and to develop the infrastructure that supports those applications.

The Internet2 Network"s physical implementation is made up of several robust, logically different, but related networks, each on its own overlaid infrastructure. These networks include:

- Advanced IP network (provided by Juniper routers)

- Dynamic Circuit network (provided by the multiservice switching capabilities of the Ciena Core Directors)

- Core optical network (provided by the Infinera platform)

IP Network

The IP network is built across a carrier-class infrastructure and supports leading edge IPv4, IPv6, multicast, and other advanced networking protocols, as well as the ability to more easily and flexibly increase its capacity beyond any other R&E network in the world.

Dynamic Circuit Network

This is a completely new service that realizes the community"s vision of hybrid (IP and dynamic circuit) networking. The Internet2 Dynamic Circuit (DC) Network is a network unlike any other before it. It uses community-developed, standards-based technologies and protocols to provide on-demand dedicated optical paths between endpoints. Just as the R&E community led the way in expanding the reach and capabilities of packet networking using the IP and TCP protocols decades ago, the DC Network breaks new ground to provide the U.S. research and education community dedicated, customizable, on-demand bandwidth.

Services enabled by the DC Network include short-term, point-to-point circuits, setup by the requestor or application in standard SONET bandwidth increments up to 10 Gbps. The DC Network is based upon the connections into the Ciena Core Directors and use of control plane software. A variety of control plane software is under development, building on the work of the OSCARS and DRAGON projects, with the goal of enabling automated reservations.

Static Circuit Services

Internet2 WaveCo provides a unified service for Internet2 members looking for long-term, static, point-to-point circuits to cost-effectively extend their network connectivity. Circuits are provisioned either by Internet2 over the Internet2-controlled optical infrastructure or by Level 3 Communications, on their nationwide footprint.

Commercial Peering Service - More Performance, Less Cost

Commercial Peering (CP) service is included in the base connection fee, so it is available for Internet2 Network connectors at no additional cost.

Internet2 is a not a single network, but a consortium of hundreds of high-speed networks linked by fiber optic backbones that span the United States and links to other countries. The network transmits data at speeds up to 2.4 gigabits per second—45,000 times faster than a 56 Kbps modem— allowing scientists to test their laboratory discoveries in the real world.

The next-generation network went online in February, 1999, linking a number of universities around the world. It should be available for commercial use soon. Then get ready for 21st century services like interactive television, virtual 3-D videoconferencing, and much more.

High-speed networks will make it possible for professionals to work in ways never before possible. For instance, scientists around the world can share specialized equipment like electron microscopes.

Today, Virtual Collaborative Clinics connects medical facilities allowing doctors to manipulate high-resolution, 3-D images of MRI scans and other medical imaging. Not only can doctors consult and diagnose, but they can simulate surgery by using a “CyberScalpel." Virtual surgery gives surgeons an opportunity to practice before even entering the operating room, reducing the time required for the actual procedure. Using this kind of virtual technology, local hospitals can access resources and skills only available at larger institutions. The technology may soon be used to provide remote health care to astronauts on extended space journeys.

A New Kind of Web

While PCs were once the primary means of accessing the Internet, we"re now seeing Internet-enabled devices such as PDAs and cell phones that send and receive e-mail and access the Web. Soon, everything from your car to your refrigerator will be connected to the global network, communicating with each other wirelessly.

Electrolux, best known for its vacuum cleaners, has developed the ScreenFridge, an Internet refrigerator that manages your pantry, among other things. It e-mails a shopping list to your local supermarket and coordinates a convenient delivery time with your schedule. Say hello to a brave, new world!

Smt. Esther Kar is an Additional Director General (M&C), PIB, Delhi
(With technical inputs from Department of Information Technology)

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