IETF considers its future telco space

Helping telecommunications companies cope with the deluge of data traffic over the coming years is shaping up as one of the Internet Engineering Task Force's (IETF) greatest challenges.

In fact, the organisation's chairman Fred Baker believes the IETF will primarily be driven by the needs of telecommunications carriers as voice traffic continues to lose its dominance in international networks.

Baker reports around one third of the IETF's working groups are already dedicated to solving various issues around the development of voice over IP networks.

Meanwhile, the IETF is also concerned with how enterprises will cope with changes to IP-based data dominated environments where everything from PCs, telephones, intranets and the Internet hang off one central network.

"This is, in fact, rocket science," he said.

However, despite the responsibilities of serving on the IETF, countless other committees and his professional role as one of Cisco's strategic advisers, Baker retains a light-hearted outlook.

"I joke with people, I'm the chair [of the IETF], which means people sit on me," he said. "The fact is, it's true."

He conceded the IETF "gets a perception as direction-less", but this he claims, is simply the "by-product of negotiation".

It seems Baker is right. With more than 120 mailing lists and up to 10,000 people on the IETF's main mailing list, debates rage all year. But when it comes to user perceptions, Baker hopes the organisation is perceived as a "place where problems get solved".

By his definition, the IETF exists as a collection of people with individual - not corporate - ideas, whose aim is to help vendors' product development, aid with product interoperability testing, and ensure users' technical needs are met.

So when it comes to the Internet's development, the IETF is faced with tough decisions such as DNS registrations and global standards for network protocols.

But more intriguing is hearing word of the organisations "very preliminary" discussions with NASA and Cisco about the possibility of deploying routers and specially built silicon chips in space. NASA even has a working group looking at the issue, Baker said.

Baker reports the idea is to develop mobile IP technology that allows routers to relay messages through space using satellites.

But these are still early days, he reiterated. "This is not an announcement."

The real question is will Cisco be the first to deploy a router in space?

"I'm not sure I'm at liberty to talk about that," Baker said, smiling.

Baker is visiting the Gold Coast to participate in Cisco's Networkers '99 conference.

Mark Jones is at Networkers '99 as a guest of Cisco.

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