Next Generation Internet: what’s next?

The EC’s NGI group recently published the final report of their open consultation for next generation Internet. The report identifies seven Technology Areas (TAs), which are believed to have pivotal roles in future Internet. We shouldn’t be surprised to see the TAs being bound by current FP7/H2020 or RCUK programmes as the respondents of the report wish to continue evolving their work in those programmes. The vast majority of the respondents come from research institutions, civil society, and SME while only 47 out of 449 are linked to industry. This is not to say that the conclusions from the report are far from realistic. Many initiatives, old (the Internet) or new (OpenFlow), stemmed from projects at research institutions.

I can see many connections between the seven TAs and my research in software-defined cognitive networking and immersive media. Having said that, is there any researcher in the area of computing and communications, whose work doesn’t cover multiple of these TAs? Is there any ICT research today that doesn’t consider data, network, and people as a whole? It seems that nearly the entire community envisages NGI as a super-intelligent, self-programming, and human-caring thing or things. There are, of course, brave ones who think differently. I vividly recall an ex-colleague of mine once saying that he contributes his success in networking research to “focusing on moving every single [network] package as fast as possible and nothing else”. Not many would think like that today…

TA 1 Discovery and identification tools

One of the premises of the Internet of Things is that devices around us will be partly physical and partly digital, with a vast majority of those devices being “headless”, lacking buttons, screens and other means by which the user interacts with the device. This premise forces us to figure out ways to discover, identify, and interact with the objects, devices and services in our lives in a seamless way, as well as ways to be made aware of the connected devices that surround us at any given moment.

TA 2 New forms of interactions and immersive environments

Increased computing, transmission power and next generation of devices (enabled by micro-nano-bio technology) allows conceptualizing new forms of interactions with machines and immersive environments that will have an impact in our professional and private life. New challenges are raising related to augmented and virtual reality, behaviour, human-computer interactions, haptics, human-human interactions through computers, machine-to-machine, spatial recognition and geographic information systems.

TA 3 Personal data spaces

Personal data is everything that identifies an individual, from a person’s name to telephone number, IP address, date of birth and photographs. The next generation Internet aims to develop technologies to help us achieve greater control of our personal data, knowing what is being shared and with whom.

TA 4 Distributed architectures and decentralized data governance

Distributed open hardware and software ecosystems are capable of supporting decentralised data management (so that each piece of user-generated information remains under the full control of the entity who generated it, and is subject to on-demand aggregation by third parties), leveraging on decentralised algorithms based on blockchains, distributed ledger technology (DLT) or peer-to-peer (P2P) technologies.

TA 5 Software-defined technologies

There is an evolution towards software-defined technologies. These may provide more functionalities and control for the allocation of resources, configuration and deployment, and may open new opportunities to develop the Internet.

TA 6 Networking solutions beyond IP

The current internet has certain limitations derived from its protocols that were developed in the 70’s, like the transmission control protocol/internet protocol (TCP/IP) and its limitations on mobility, IP address management and task limitation. Quality of Service (QoS) is another problem derived from TCP/IP, which is a problem generated by the inherent nature of networking technologies and the focus on pumping data from point A to point B as fast as possible without focusing on how the data is sent. The internet of the future should be able to overcome these limitations.

TA 7 Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence will also change the Internet. Inspired by how the human brain works, mathematical models can learn discrete tasks by analysing enormous amounts of data. So far, machines have learnt to recognize faces in photos, understand spoken commands, and translate text from one language to another. But this is only the beginning. Artificial Intelligence will greatly sharpening the behaviour of any online services and be core technical enabler of the future Internet.

Overton, David., Next Generation Internet Initiative –  Consultation, https://ec.europa.eu/futurium/en/content/final-report-next-generation-internet-consultation-0, 2017

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