NET NEWS: Superfast Network Goes Global

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Science  02 Oct 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5386, pp. 7
DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5386.7c

U.S. researchers who need high-speed computer lines to collaborate with colleagues abroad can look forward to a whole new world of possibilities—or a big chunk of the world, anyway. The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced last week that it's hitching up its high-speed network to computers in Russia and the Pacific Rim. The connections should help scientists collaborate across oceans on everything from remote microscopy to astronomy and nuclear weapons control.

NSF director Rita Colwell unveiled the international hookups to the agency's very high speed Backbone Network Service (vBNS), which currently connects 56 U.S. research institutions. The links will run on underwater fiber-optic cables already in place between the United States and Japan and Russia and will be managed by Indiana University and the University of Tennessee. “For the first time, we are poised to extend a high-speed network for research … all around the globe,” Colwell said. The connections follow vBNS links to Singapore and Canada established last year.

In Asia, the 34 million bit per second (Mbps) pipeline called TransPAC will be hooked to an existing research network connecting Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Australia. MirNET, Russia's link, is still about 60 days away from being operational and will operate at a mere 6 Mbps. (That compares to a dizzying 622 Mbps for the vBNS—fast enough to send 46 copies of a 300-page book every second.) “This doesn't sound like very much,” says NSF International Networking Program director Steven Goldstein, but it will make a big difference for researchers now sharing crowded computer lines. Imagine having “your own two-lane road with nobody else on it,” he says. More links are in the works: Israel, France, five Nordic countries, the Netherlands, and Taiwan are expected to connect to the vBNS within the next few months.

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