Can the Internet be made so efficient that it's affordable for the whole world? A new white paper, released this week by an organization set up by Facebook and several other technology companies, lays out strategies and projects to do just that.
The 70-page "Focus on Efficiency" white paper, from the Internet.org organization created in August by Facebook, Qualcomm, Ericsson, Samsung, MediaTek, Nokia and Opera, outlines a variety of projects designed to provide dramatic improvements in the Net's efficiency.
Internet.org's mission is to make the Web more affordable, and the projects announced this week focus on data compression, application efficiency, server efficiency and other ways to improve the economics and thus increase the reach of the 21st century's most important technology. Currently, about 2.4 billion people of the planet's 7 billion people have Internet access.
'A Human Right'
"As founding members of Internet.org," the paper says, "we believe it's possible to build that will sustainably provide free access to basic Internet services in a way that enables everyone with a phone to connect to the Internet."
The first efforts will focus on making access less expensive, increasing data efficiency, and assisting businesses in increasing access. To do that, the costs of data will need to be reduced, and greater efficiency will need to reduce data transmission requirements.
The white paper said that if a 10x improvement can be achieved on these fronts, "it becomes economically reasonable to offer free basic services to those who cannot afford them, and to begin sustainably delivering on the promise of connectivity as a human right."
In the paper, Facebook described some of its efforts. For instance, the social networking giant is using a system it created, Air Traffic Control, to help simulate different network conditions in its offices, with the ability to tweak bandwidth, packet loss, corrupted packets or packet ordering. The company is also in the process of transitioning to the more efficient WebP digital image format from Google, since photos are the biggest bandwidth hogs on Facebook.
The social networking giant said that it currently converts images into WebP for its Android app, and is working on rolling out the file format to other platforms. Converting to this file format, the company said, could save more than 20 percent of its total network , without loss of quality.
Facebook is also working on a streamlined application called Facebook For Every Phone, enabling the service to be received on phones other than smartphones, such as feature phones. The app hands off much of the processing to the server and reuses cached content frequently.
Qualcomm's projects include what it describes as the 1000X Challenge, an effort to build the technologies needed to support the level of traffic expected within a decade, which is estimated to be 1000 times greater than today's.
Strategies that Qualcomm is employing include bonding together separate bands in order to improve capacity and data speeds, LTE-Broadcast technology for multicasting video and data when the same content is being viewed by many people in the same location, LTE-Direct for first responder device-to-device communication that bypasses a potentially overloaded or nonworking cell network, and faster 802.11 ac and ad WiFi technologies.
Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, told NewsFactor that although worldwide connectivity was a laudable goal, the effort seemed to be "seeing the world through first-world lenses," in that Internet connectivity is not high on the list of priorities in some of the least developed parts of the world.