Originally published in The Clarion | October 31, 2012
It isn’t often that IT folks like me have a lot to get excited about. Sure there are always new gadgets, software, Web sites and apps but those things are marginally interesting at best most of the time. The things that really get us going are advancements in the core technologies that we all depend on. Whether it’s an entirely new technology or an improvement to an existing one, these are the things that really catch our attention and as a result keep us on our toes. An improvement on an existing piece of technology – more specifically a vital aspect of networking communications – was recently announced that will most likely have a tremendous impact on the technologies that most of use each and every day.
This “new” technology – Coded TCP – will have, once implemented, an unbelievable impact on data communications, especially in the ever-expanding world of wireless. TCP, or the Transmission Control Protocol, is virtually always combined with IP – the Internet Protocol – to provide reliable, orderly delivery of data from one host or device to another. Because of its inherent responsibility for reliable communications, poor network conditions can cause all sorts of issues with data communications when TCP data is sent but not received properly. If a segment of data does not reach its destination, TCP immediately attempts to remedy this issue, requesting that the lost or corrupt data be resent. You can imagine how much unnecessary data might be generated if network conditions are poor. On a typical wired network, such retransmissions aren’t usually necessary (assuming the wired network is properly designed and the attached hosts aren’t spewing rogue data). In the world of wireless though, all sorts of external variables can easily create poor network conditions, causing very high instances of data retransmissions. This is where Coded TCP saves the day.
By adding in something many of us learned in high school – algebra – Coded TCP eliminates the need for lost data packets to be retransmitted. By adding in algebraic expressions to the transmitted data, the receiving end of a data stream can simply “do the math” if data is either not received or corrupt, eliminating the need for the originating host to re-send. The result is simple – the receiving host gets its data as expected, except in a much more reliable fashion. Real-world tests have showed almost unbelievable results by using Coded TCP in place of traditional TCP. In one test at MIT, Wi-Fi data transfer rates increased from 1Mbps to 16Mbps by simply using Coded TCP. No new or additional hardware was utilized. The data was simply coded differently with the addition of algebraic expressions. Another test on a moving train increased transfer rates from 0.5Mbps to 13.5Mbps, again only by changing to Coded TCP. This technology has the potential to revolutionize wireless data communications, I simply cannot wait for it to be implemented industry-wide.