Thursday, March 25, 2010

Core infrastructure for secure natural communications

As opposed to the other key constructs, designing the core infrastructure is not a fundamental research issue but rather requires effective systems engineering. Given the design parameters that can be foreseen for secure natural communications – what is the best network design, how much capacity is needed, where to place concentrators, etc?

Today’s technology suggests the following general design about the core infrastructure. We imagine a world which is rich in sensors for both input (e.g. camera, speech) and output (e.g. displays). These are small and cost-effective hence they can be ubiquitous. They are in every room in every building and pervasive in outdoor malls and even in roadways. They are equipped with GPS so we know location and the sensors can communicate.

To achieve the natural communications and to connect these pervasive sensors required untethered devices with extensive coverage by wireless networks. But wireless cannot solve it all. Since maximum bandwidth is achieved through fiber optics we assume an extensive high bandwidth fiber backbone.

Key systems engineering issues

Input sensor design. We imagine that people speak naturally and have their speech, and ultimately their gestures sensed by the infrastructure and operated upon. How will the physical sensors be designed? In order to get reasonable noise-free reception – do they need to be worn on clothing very close to the speaker? Can those be made natural enough, sufficiently low-cost, and powerful enough in a small footprint? Or will rooms be designed with acoustic systems and cameras to pick up on sounds and motion?
Output sensor design. Players not only emit bits, but they also receive them. What is the overall design of the output system? Are there screens everywhere that people gravitate to? How much is visual and how much is spoken? What is the trade-off between personal devices and devices that are built into the infrastructure?
Local wireless network. Today there are wireless networks with different design points for the home, office, mall, and airport. If we had a uniform assumption about the desirable network infrastructure: a high bandwidth fiber backbone and ample wireless networks to reach into that backbone, what would the wireless piece look like? What would it cost to configure? Do we have the right protocols designed for that set of assumptions? Spectrum?
Spectrum. How should spectrum be allocated to balance all of the wireless needs between local area, metropolitan, and wide area?
Wide area backbone network design. Similar to the wireless network observation. We have fiber networks today. Let’s create a specification to understand the needs of tomorrow. What would represent sufficient bandwidth for foreseeable needs? How would we build such a network? Cost?

While core network design is principally about systems engineering - improvement in core communications research technology will also improve the core network. Here are some of these core research areas motivated by the desire to create a core infrastructure for secure natural communications.

Sample core infrastructure research issues

Fiber componentry. Getting more bits per second through a fiber link.
Fiber network architecture. Designing the layout of fiber multiplexors and processors to improve network bandwidth
Nanotechnology. Continued miniaturization is critical for sensor technology
Wireless contention algorithms. Better signal processing to get more bandwidth out of limited spectrum
Multi-media. How to utilize network bandwidth to address quality of service needs for disparate traffic patterns such as voice, data, and video.

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