Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

NASA is testing delay-tolerant networking to allow researchers to monitor experiments onboard the International Space Station.

The Internet is becoming the de facto standard for all telecommunications; services like voice-over-IP and Internet Protocol television are overtaking the technologies purpose-built for telephones and televisions. But the protocols underlying the Internet make assumptions about physical connections that do not always fit well with wireless communications: that all links are generally the same and provide close to real-time connectivity from one end of the link to the other. Wireless services are often intermittent, vary widely in the amount of bandwidth they offer, and, especially in the case of satellite services, can lag, making websites sluggish to respond to clicks. As new applications place new demands on Internet-based networks, “maybe it makes more sense to think about some radically different architectures,” says Preston Marshall, director of the wireless-­networking division at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute and a former manager for many of the advanced wireless technology programs at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

This kind of thinking informs efforts to integrate technologies such as delay-­tolerant networking (DTN) with Internet protocols. Because DTN allows communication even when establishing an end-to-end link is impossible, it would make networks more robust. It’s also well suited for applications such as machine-to-machine communication. For example, a meter on a “smart” electric grid may need to exchange only small amounts of data with the power company within a relatively broad window of time; it doesn’t need a high-bandwidth real-time connection.

Beyond DTN, it may ultimately be possible to shift between different kinds of wireless links from moment to moment, depending on the type of data to be accessed. A user could browse for a movie title using a low-lag but low-bandwidth cellular connection and then download the movie over a high-lag, high-bandwidth satellite connection.

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Credit: NASA

Tagged: Communications

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me
×

A Place of Inspiration

Understand the technologies that are changing business and driving the new global economy.

September 23-25, 2014
Register »