WIDE Project in Fiscal 2022
A year marked by the outbreak of war and a global pandemic
The research themes WIDE Project has pursued since its founding have generated a great many positive results that have since blossomed and transformed into elements of today’s digital society. Research & development (R&D) efforts ultimately feed into contributions to society through research papers and standardization. Traditionally, it is universities and research institutes that produce the research papers, and corporations that tackle standardization. A model in which feedback from society cycles directly back into R&D efforts, continuously pushing R&D forward is precisely the sort of design envisioned in WIDE Project’s founding. From the beginning, many universities and research institutes along with engineers from the corporate sector have participated in WIDE Project’s activities, pursuing R&D together. The researchers experience what it means to provide R&D outcomes to society and evaluate this, and then continue on to the next R&D initiative.
Another key aspect of WIDE’s style of doing things is that there are no restrictions on the germination of research, not only in the case of researchers at universities and research institutes but also for corporate researchers. Corporate researchers within corporate research departments, in particular, continue to find themselves in an era in which the degree to which research contributes to the business comes under scrutiny. The role of WIDE is significant in this sense, given the intense scrutiny over the profit contributions of corporate research these days. Amid the global pandemic and the sudden outbreak of war in 2022, people involved in science & technology and, indeed, WIDE Project, in the role it plays in developing the future of and running the Internet, which now connects the globe as one, continued to strive toward a future vision, unperturbed by the prevailing tides of international society. And from this perspective, I would like to consider how WIDE’s research has brought us to where we are now, and to use this as a starting point for future research.
WIDE Project’s involvement in the iCAR project aimed at connecting automobiles to the Internet reflects the idea that humans will eventually wear computers that connect to the Internet. Installing computers in cars, which have bodies of steel and move around the environment with people, would enable people to connect to the Internet. This model may seem like an outlandish idea, but it is now having some success as a pioneering initiative relevant to mobility technology and the way people relate to smartphones.
The challenge of accurately determining position via positioning satellites was something we worked on heavily when iCAR started up. The notion of using Differential GPS—which combines the accuracy of ground position triangulated using satellites with accurate fixed-point information—naturally led to a discussion about what kind of infrastructure the autonomous location technology used by mobile nodes would depend on. To achieve 100% mobility—or in other words, 100% land coverage—the infrastructure investment would also need 100% geographical coverage. And at WIDE, we began looking into the question of whether there might be an alternative way around this. With Wi-Fi spreading, the WIDE group was also working on the idea of technology that would allow mobile devices to store Wi-Fi identifiers, like the BSSID, and calculate location by inferring it from GPS and mobile base stations. Project PLATEAU, a detailed three-dimensional map project led by Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, is also making headway. And progress is being made on the development of basic mobility technologies for wheelchairs, baby strollers, and the era of drones. As an increasingly diverse range of devices and sensors capable of autonomous distributed processing appears and as we achieve mobility for humans and sensors along with the right data processing capabilities, we will be moving a step closer to WIDE’s ideal of a large-scale, wide-area distributed computing environment.
2. Internet nodes that do not move with people
Internet identifiers themselves come with (almost) no notion of geographic location. Any IP address can be associated with any location as long as correct routing control is in place. What there is is an overall topology map of IP address blocks that are recognized as network segments. The main concern from an IP perspective is being able to correctly recognize locations on the Internet, which are essentially unrelated to geographic location, national borders, and the like. The reason why we increasingly receive notifications like “This video cannot be viewed in your region“ when trying to view online content probably has to do with hotels and other establishments using ISP services that provide address blocks that, according to the WHOIS database, belong to a company located abroad, or something similar. To have such a great divide between Internet technologies and the way services are operated is quite a lamentable situation.
The terminology around the Internet of Things (IoT) is said to have come from RFID and the like, while the term IoT itself was originally analogous to the desire to be able to manage “things” (devices). The affordability of computer equipment prices and the miniaturization of parts and devices paved the way for realizing the dream of things carrying a full protocol stack, and the expansion of the address space has also been a great boon. WIDE’s research groups have accordingly continued to push ahead in this vein, particularly when it comes to enthusiasm for the full IPv6 protocol stack and R&D related to simplifying that stack.
The AI3 (Asian Internet Interconnection Initiatives) Project used satellites to expand SOI Asia (School on Internet Asia) across Southeast Asia via orbital space, ensuring connectivity for Southeast Asian universities in areas the Internet had yet to reach fully. The three-dimensional routing across Earth’s surface and via space this involved was a major achievement for WIDE. Low-orbit satellite Internet services these days do embody ongoing advancements in terms of the technologies traditionally used to connect low-orbit satellites and earth-based locations, but dynamic control of routing between ground-based Internet and satellite-based Internet is not yet with us. And this is probably not something that will be developed by commercial Internet services that compete on the basis of segments. The responsibility for creating a society via the Internet lies with an organization like WIDE Project, which is able to take a dispassionate, levelheaded approach to considering how routing control can be achieved in situations such as disasters.
3. Bitmap displays and multimedia
I don’t really have any artistic flair, so the first thing that came to my mind when the bitmap display was born was the ability to arrange text freely. Displays were able to show graphics and text in all sorts of fonts, and then multi-window systems appeared, and eventually came the development of browser platforms. Researchers and engineers involved in WIDE Project and its predecessor, JUNET, made significant contributions in all of these processes. This included the ability to use Japanese and later the standardization of character codes in the form of Unicode and the like, followed by the internationalization of text display capabilities, which meant incorporating international glyphs, input systems, and the concept of directionality so that text could run from top to bottom and left to right, for instance. Japanese engineers made huge contributions to these technical systems, which are now included in the HTML standards.
And speaking of HTML, online video services are now very much an industrial aspect of the Internet that keep the economy and society moving. Video and other streaming data services, however, are not all that well suited to best-effort transfer systems based on the retransmission of data at both ends of a connection. The DVTS protocol advocated by WIDE can be described as a highly forcible protocol that keeps video streams flowing through datagrams with minimal delay and without complex encoding. I think it’s the sort of technology that only WIDE could have tackled. This made a surprising contribution to the development of commercial video services at a time when Internet traffic was growing rapidly. And this was made possible by there being quite entrepid operators and vendors among WIDE’s members with a desire to tackle commercial video services. Eventually, the services came to make full use of technologies like multicasting to reduce overall traffic, CDNs with data caches on the consumer end, and technology for dynamically adjusting transmission volume (resolution in the case of images) according to traffic measurements on the end system, ultimately becoming the biggest source of traffic among Internet applications today. WIDE Project engineers were of course involved in most of the technologies involved in this process, and Japanese groups, including WIDE, made significant contributions to several important standard technology proposals.
4. Mobile carriers and independent networks
The advance of mobile carriers that provide smartphone connectivity has been remarkable. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has continued to advance technology standardization, with component technology proposals coming from the IETF, ETSI, and other organizations. From a broad historical perspective, 5G can be seen as a space into which the Internet itself has been deployed as a universal service, with carriers’ business models complementing the digital communications technology of the Internet. On the device front, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which embody the communications capabilities of private networks, have been key drivers here. IP itself does not determine the infrastructure, and so we have yet to fully establish what the real value is in having smartphones, which are now more numerous than the human population, that are linked via at least one public network and two types of private network. Countless engineers coming out of WIDE were involved in the development efforts of carriers and vendors leading up to 5G. The groundwork for creating a completely new type of distributed computing has been laid, and an exciting future for R&D in this space lies ahead.
5. Relationship between the Earth and networks encircling it
WIDE Project has been involved in over 50 meetings of the AI3 and SOI Asia projects designed to connect Asia, with the process of forming an Asia-Pacific community ongoing for over 20 years. Today, we continue to work with Japanese Internet organizations involved in research, education, and development, and in cooperation with international R&D networks, building cutting-edge infrastructure in the form of ARENA-PAC. AI3 can be characterized as having used satellite communications technology to establish pinpoint connections with Southeast Asian universities in locations where no Internet infrastructure exists. Our joint research scheme with INRIA (France’s National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology) as part of IETF activities was a crucial starting point for WIDE’s international research activities. Now, nearly 30 years later, we have seen Internet services via low-orbit satellites start up in 2022, and the three-dimensional fusion of space and land-based infrastructure that we have pushed for ever since is now a global possibility. Back in the early 1990s, when less than 1% of the world’s population had access to the Internet, the slogan created for ISOC was “The Internet is for Everyone”. The rise of IoT has made the vision of “The Internet is for Everything” a reality, and we are now on the cusp of “The Internet is Everywhere” era.
6. WIDE Project heading into 2023
Over the past few years, WIDE has increasingly been discussing the quantum Internet. A testbed-type research setup geared toward the security and integrity of quantum computing and information sharing has become characteristic of WIDE’s approach. We are now in an era in which people, industries, and all the various services that permeate our society rely on the Internet and distributed computing as a given. This unfurling of history is now evident to everyone in light of the global pandemic that began in 2020 and the outbreak of hybrid war in 2022, and the technologies with which WIDE has been involved now face increasing cultural and civilizational expectations and responsibilities. I believe that WIDE Project has a significant and weighty role and responsibility to fulfill here, precisely because we understand the technologies, we understand the architecture, and we are able to discuss the limitations.
To round out this report on WIDE Project’s activities in fiscal 2022, I would like to express my appreciation for everyone’s participation and support. As part of WIDE Project’s mission in 2023, we naturally plan to continue these activities while also engaging in discussion with all stakeholders about the challenges that lie ahead and our strategic approach.