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Island-Hopping Data

Telecommunications networks are like the highway system-an amalgam of six-lane freeways and winding country roads. Most networks try to send data over the freeways, but that can lead to massive congestion. Software developed at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne looks at traffic across the entire network, calculating more efficient routes in real time. Lab simulations suggest that the software, which would run at a central switching facility, could increase a network’s capacity by as much as 40 percent.

The software divides a network into “islands,” each separated from its neighbors by particularly sluggish data connections-that is, potential bottlenecks. The islands are subdivided into smaller islands, separated by slightly faster connections, and so on. As traffic along a given route increases, the available bandwidth decreases, so the islands are continually grouped and regrouped; but the software always plots the route with the highest bandwidth. “The search turns out to be quite efficient,” says lead developer Boi Faltings. He is looking for industry partners to test the software.

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