Computer scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed software designed to enable people to share their high-speed wireless connections without sacrificing security or privacy. Researchers believe the software can improve Internet connectivity in residential areas at no additional cost.
A typical residential user accesses his broadband home connection about 12 to 15 hours per week, figured Haiyun Luo, a professor of computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. So, while the Internet connection is always on, most of the time it sits idle. Luo would like to see that idleness put to good use by benefiting other users. He and graduate student Nathanael Thompson may have come up with a way to do it.
“Significantly improved speed and the ‘always on’ feature of wireless routers have been driving the rapid spread of broadband Internet access in many residential areas,” said Luo. “More than 56 percent of homes in the United States already have Internet access, and more than half of those homes are using WiFi wireless home networks.”
Getting a PERM
Luo and Thompson have developed a software framework called PERM (Practical End-host collaborative Residential Multihoming) that intends to allow neighbors to pool their Internet access and, in doing so, improve both performance and resilience.
“PERM exploits the diversity of broadband Internet access in residential areas to improve connectivity in a managed way,” Luo said. “Our design requires no support outside the user’s wireless router, and is immediately deployable.”
By pooling all available Internet connections, neighbors can enhance their Internet connectivity at no additional cost. That is, if neighbors are willing to share.
“PERM represents a paradigm shift in the Internet user community,” Luo said. “Until now, most users have been unwilling to share their wireless connections for fear of losing security and privacy. We offer a solution that ensures mutual benefit, security and privacy.”
The sharing of Internet connections is open only to registered users who, in exchange for using connections belonging to others, must offer the use of their own. This “peer-to-peer” sharing concept has enormous potential, with millions of possible nodes, Luo said.
The issue with technology like PERM is not about whether it is secure, but whether it is legal, according to Predrag Filipovic, Ph.D., senior analyst, Multimedia and Wireless Networks, at The Diffusion Group. It opens up ISPs to abuse by folks who aren’t paying for it, much like someone who uses his neighbor’s water hose to water his yard.
“I can see this technology being applied on campus networks. When it comes to a peer-to-peer sharing in residential areas, I think some of the ISPs might have an issue with that because in densely populated neighborhoods instead of getting 50 subscribers they suddenly may only get five,” Filipovic told TechNewsWorld. “There is a legal question here.”