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Darpa Looks Past Ethernet, IP Nets

REDWOOD SHORES, Calif. -- In a handful of high-level programs, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is pushing beyond Ethernet and Internet Protocol to hammer home the message that peer-to-peer networks -- intrinsically more efficient than end-to-end topologies --are the future, and the future is now.

Darpa is pushing toward a world of ultralow-cost, low-power, ad hoc mesh networks. The programs are part of a broad military drive toward ubiquitous computing based on next-generation networks, including RFID and wireless sensor nets.

At the Wireless Ventures conference here last week, Preston Marshall, a program manager in Darpa's Advanced Technology Office, moved the spotlight away from the rise of today's 802.11 networks in the business world, saying in keynote that an improvement of five orders of magnitude is needed. "We get trapped by the vision of Internet Protocol like its some sort of theocracy when in fact there are much better models," he said.

Marshall's contrarian note resonated amid predictions like the one by a venture capitalist that Wi-Fi nets will ultimately surpass even cellular as both race toward the consumer broadband era.

But such networks are grossly inefficient for sending small amounts of data that will be the hallmark of future machine-to-machine networks of embedded devices, Marshall said. An 802.11b network could take as many as 12,480 bits and 57 acknowledgments to send an 80-bit data packet, a 0.65 percent efficiency rating.

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