Internet initiative to give major boost to Irish research


Irish researchers are to join the cutting edge "Next Generation Internet" and "Internet 2" research initiatives in the US, according to the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern.

The Republic will link directly to these two Internet research networks in the US via the fibreoptic telecommunications network it acquired through a public-private partnership deal with the telecommunications company Global Crossing.

The network will also provide infrastructural support for projects funded under the £1.95 billion education and research programme in the National Development Plan 2000-2006.

The initiative will be a major boost to the State's research capabilities and international research profile. Using the network, Irish universities and institutions will be able to collaborate within 18 months with the 170 leading institutions in the US involved in the NGI and I2 projects.

"Broadband links are set to increase over 20 times between Irish and US research institutions. That will mean closer cooperation in Internet 2 and Next Generation initiatives between our higher institutes of learning," Mr Ahern said in a speech at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.

The NGI and I2 initiatives in the US are supported by both universities and industry and are test-beds for leading Internet research in areas such as virtual reality and three-dimensional collaborative environments. For example, researchers in the US say it will be possible for a surgeon in San Francisco to operate on a patient in New York over a very high-speed Internet connection, using special sensory gloves and virtual reality goggles. Eventually, in a 3-D virtual reality environment over the network, researchers scattered across the globe could meet and have the sense of working next to each other in the same room.

The network will link into the planned digital village surrounding the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's MediaLabEurope research facility, which is based in the former Guinness Hopstore building. "We're putting Ireland firmly on the Next Generation and Internet 2 networks," a Government spokesman said.

"This is obviously a very positive development" said Mr Eamon McKeogh, a lecturer in environmental and civil engineering at UCC. He noted that the network will enable collaborative work by people in all areas of research, not just in technology. His work on hydrogen fuel cells and wind energy forecasting will benefit from his ability to link with researchers in the US, he said.

The Republic has lagged behind other European states in funding research but this announcement underlined a recent "sea change" in attitude, said the Government spokesman.

The Government sold most of the fibre lines it received in the Global Crossing deal, but set aside more than a dozen fibre lines for use in national development projects. Sixteen of these high-speed lines will form the research network and will be managed by HEAnet, the State's national education and research Internet network.