'Poor Man's Broadband' Aids Access in Developing Countries

Loraine Lawson

Peer-to-peer technology hasn't exactly been the darling of the IT world. In fact, it seems to have caused more problems for business -- particularly those in the music industry -- than it's solved.


But a group of students at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) will soon test a new architecture that uses P2P's powers for the greater good. Admittedly, it's not an application that will help you grow your business -- unless your business depends on sending files to Pakistan and other countries with scarce bandwidth resources. But it's a smart new use of P2P, plus pre-Internet techniques, that could go a long way to open up areas of the world that experience very limited connectivity now.


It's creators call the architecture Poor Man's Broadband, according to a blurb in the New Scientist. It's designed to provide higher bandwidth in developing countries, where the problem isn't the last mile but connecting to the Internet beyond national boundaries. According to the students' 10-page paper on Poor Man's Broadband, the high cost of international Internet circuits, local ISP problems and even political policies that influence routing all contribute to connectivity that's a fraction of what's possible over dial-up. On a 56Kbps modem, Pakistan gets a typical connection of 10-20Kbps.


You may remember the wonderful world of dial up? You would click on a link, go make some coffee, maybe milk a cow so you had some cream for your coffee, then go back to see if the page had loaded yet. Now, imagine that, but slower, and you see why a new solution is such a big deal.


Poor Man's Broadband can actually double the bandwidth now experienced with dial-up in Pakistan. That means the Lahore University students could enjoy speeds close to 40Kbps. It will also reduce the risk of the university overloading its ISP's servers.


Basically, it allows computers to link to each other for faster downloads, and it works as long as at least one computer -- using Poor Man's Broadband software -- has already downloaded the desired file.


The students were inspired by Bittorent. In addition to the P2P data transfer protocols, their system also uses intelligent connection interleaving and content-prefetching.

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