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Upgrade to Core Internet Protocol Can Boost Speeds 30 Percent

The TCP standard at the heart of the Internet dates from 1974. A proposed replacement could make our connections much faster.
January 22, 2016

One of the world’s largest operators of Internet plumbing says it has a plan to give our data a major speed boost. It could lead to faster downloads and more reliable, higher-quality video streams.

Akamai operates a giant global network of more than 200,000 servers that ISPs and companies such as Facebook use to move data around. On Thursday the company shared results from tests of a technology code-named Giga that proved able to move data on average 30 percent faster than the company can today.

Kit Knox, vice president for media engineering at Akamai, said Thursday that his company wants to release the technology in the hope that it will be adopted as standard. He presented results on Akamai’s tests of Giga at a conference on video-streaming technology hosted by Facebook.

Akamai tested the technology using servers all over the world. Results varied depending on the location and the local Internet service provider, but on average the rate at which data could move jumped just over 30 percent. Tests in India, China, and Bolivia showed improvements of more than 150 percent—although those in some other places, like Germany, over its ISP Deutsche Telekom’s network, yielded an improvement of only a few percentage points.

Giga is a replacement for TCP, a protocol for transporting data first published in 1974, which still underpins the Internet and which is overdue for an upgrade, says Knox. “A lot of the core protocols we use to deliver content haven’t evolved much—we’re going to need new technologies to bring this into the future,” said Knox.

Giga includes several improvements on TCP that can squeeze better performance out of existing Internet connections. One does a better job of detecting whether the route to a person trying to access data is at capacity or not. TCP often incorrectly assumes connections are full when they in fact have unused capacity, Knox says. Another speed-boosting trick built into Giga encodes data into electronic packets in a new way that reduces dropped links if a connection wavers.

To work in practice, Giga will require not only end-user devices such as computers and phones but also the servers of companies supplying data to support the protocol. Knox says Akamai plans to openly release the technology to encourage broad adoption in the Internet industry. The company is aiming to combine it with QUIC, software developed by Google that can make certain types of Internet traffic, such as streaming video, faster.

Google offered up QUIC to the Internet’s standards body, the IETF, last year. The technology is already built into the Chrome browser and Google’s own services, and the company reported last summer that YouTube users using Chrome were 30 percent less likely to experience video buffering as a result.

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