Vint Cerf Plugs His Plucky Space Web Protocol Into Android


Google evangelist Vint Cerf, who many people think of as one of the fathers of the Internet, has his eyes on some interesting Earth-based applications that can work with his long-standing interplanetary extensions of the Net. He announced at the Open Mobile Summit this morning a software stack that sits on top of the open-source Android operating system that could strengthen wireless network communications through his DTN (Delay Tolerant Netorking) Interplanetary Net protocol.

Cerf has been working with NASA since 1998 to develop DTN as a way to overcome limitations in the TCP/IP protocol when fast, one-to-one communications aren’t possible, especially over long distances. NASA has already show DTN to be effective for communications between Earth-based networks and outposts in deep space.  Can the protocol greatly increase the coverage and service reliability of our mobile networks and devices?

The protocol uses a store-and-forward, rather than a continuous communication model, to reliably communicate packets back-and-forth over long distances, as explained in this NASA note on its successes with DTN:

Unlike TCP/IP on Earth, the DTN does not assume a continuous end-to-end connection. In its design, if a destination path cannot be found, the data packets are not discarded. Instead, each network node keeps the information as long as necessary until it can communicate safely with another node. This store-and-forward method, similar to basketball players safely passing the ball to the player nearest the basket means information does not get lost when no immediate path to the destination exists. Eventually, the information is delivered to the end user.

DTN is also slated for many applications involving communications between Earth-based networks and satellites, and even long-distance underwater communications tasks. Cerf also has his eyes squarely on high-reliability DTN deployments for use with Earth-based wireless networks, as The Register’s Cade Metz reports:

“Mobile operations are highly stressed,” Cerf said. “Mobiles are used where people congregate…In a sense, mobile is already a dense and hostile environment. We all know that when you drive around, coverage isn’t very good. It’s so hostile, it’s clear that mobile could take advantage of these more-resilient protocols. TCP/IP is very brittle.”

Cerf’s work on DTN has been space-focused for many years, but, just as the Android operating system is open source and forking into many new types of deployments, DTN is moving beyond Cerf’s initial intent for it. Given its roots in space applications, doesn’t an operating system dubbed Android have the perfect name for it?

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