Two big developments could have your Internet connection screaming along the pipes it just glorps through right now, though only one of them will have any kind of immediate impact.
The first started this morning as one of the first steps in what participants call the Global Internet Speedup.
It's a tiny, subtle and elegant change implemented this morning by Google, alternative DNS-resolution service providers including OpenDNS and Comodo's DNS.com and content-delivery networks including CloudFlare.
Normally the content you get from sites big enough to employ CDNs comes more quickly because the CDNs cache it in strategic spots around the world so they can deliver it to you from a location closer to you than the site's home server.
From a physicist's perspective based only on the speed of light (or electricity), data cached in Toronto should get to you in New York only a couple of microseconds faster than from the site in Hong Kong where it originated.
The networked reality is that there are a lot of iffy, narrow or busy connections between New York and Hong Kong, so the speed at which content pops up on your screen has a lot more to do with the efficiency and number of network hops between you and the data than it does the speed of light.
Until this morning, placing an order on that cheap-gadget site meant sending the request with your entire IP address to Hong Kong, which would then decide which CDN caching location would respond to you.
Under the new rules, only the first three sets of digits in your IP address go all the way to the site you're asking.
Those three sets of numbers (192.168.55) – the truncated IP address –tell the site enough about your location to identify a nearby CDN site and get the information delivered ASAP.
Unfortunately, only Google and a few smaller CDNs and DNS-resolution companies are participating: EdgeCast, CDNetworks, Comodo and CloudFlare.
The big ones, incluyding Akamai, Limelight and Amazon, have not yet signed on.
You can switch into the higher-speed lane of the DNS network by choosing one of the DNS-resolution services that has already switched to the new scheme: Comodo's DNS.com, Google Public DNS and OpenDNS are all up and looking for customers.
You have to open the network configuration interface of your browser and/or router and add the IP addresses of Google's DNS servers (126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52), according to Sebastian Anthony at ExtremeTech.
More speed from material that's not quite science fiction
The other big speedup for the Internet is a little farther in the future.
According to a study in Nature Communications, the nano-carbon-derived material graphene could be used to create fiberoptic networking cables that carry data hundreds of times faster than current cabling.
Graphene – a cool-looking but bizarre material whose 'natural' state is as two-dimensional sheets a single atom thick, all bound tightly together in a hexagonal honeycomb pattern – is the strongest material ever tested. Even when it's used in layers more thin than any other material, the result is far more impermeable, flexible and conductive of electricity than current alternatives.
Samsung has demonstrated a 25-inch flexible touchscreen using a graphene base; IBM demonstrated high-speed switches in February, 2010 able to operate at 100 Ghz.
The problem for fiberoptic networking is that graphene is able to capture only a fraction of the light glass can, a weakness researchers overcame by running copper wires down the fiber, creating a basic solar cell that can capture the light graphene alone cannot.
Many electronics manufacturers have announced the intention to work graphene into future editions of their products, but the difficulty working with it means it will be several years before it leaves the lab and enters a product specification.
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