Two telecommunications experts in Northern Ireland have developed a technology that could cut the cost of internet access while boosting reliability and speed.
Next week, Gerard Parr, of the University of Ulster at Coleraine, and Alan Marshall, of Queen's University Belfast, will unveil their research at the IFIP/IEEE International Conference on Management of Multimedia Networks and Services in Chicago.
The conference aims to tackle the massive growth of multimedia streams on the internet and its implications on the underlying core carrier networks.
The UU/QUB team has been working on methods of improving bandwidth management. It has developed a software methodology that uses "intelligent mobile agents", which can negotiate access to competing networks, potentially finding user applications the most reliable connection at the best price.
"The more real-time intelligence we can put into network management, the more benefits for the end user and the network providers," Professor Parr said.
"These agents are essentially independent software processes that can be told what resource attributes to look for and where to find them, with the freedom to negotiate with agents from other network providers to meet the needs of key applications."
Drawing on the "agent" theme, the research team has called the project Bonds (Brokering Open Network Differentiated Services). Their unique approach centres on an agent brokering protocol that allows clients to say what they are willing to pay for a service.
Some want to pay a premium rate to jump the queue, others want the cheapest deal available. The software agents act as a real-time broker between the computer application and networks.
The work has been sponsored by Fujitsu Telecommunications Europe Ltd based in Birmingham. Its chief engineer, Keith Jones, said: "Standard IP networks normally offer 'best-effort' data delivery policy, and at link congestion, time-sensitive services such as real time video and voice will be severely affected."
The UU/QUB research promised better provision and management for network services, where the required amount of bandwidth could be allocated to support the desired quality of service, Mr Jones said. "Ideally, a network provider wants to give the required bandwidth or quality of service to all its clients, but this is hard to achieve due to a finite network capacity. We believe that pricing remains the best and the fairest solution to the effective distribution of bandwidth."
Professor Parr said: "The IFIP/ IEEE event is a major international conference, and to have one of our papers accepted by the committee is a testament to the level of industrially relevant telecommunications research that is taking place in the UK, and in particular within Northern Ireland between our two universities."