Bringing the Internet Back from the Brink

With "the internet of things" bringing billions more devices online, we need a plan to avoid a cataclysmic collapse of the wireless world.

 |  Transcript [PDF]

Our society depends on the internet for a lot of things – for entertainment, but also for banks, hospitals, and businesses. Almost everything we do today is impacted by the internet. What would happen if it suddenly stopped working?

Catherine Rosenberg, Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo, spends her days trying to make sure we never have to find out. Her group studies wireless systems, creating mathematical models and gathering data to make sure that internet wireless technology can handle increased traffic and doesn’t become a bottleneck.

Rosenberg is also the Canada Research Chair in the Future Internet. Currently, the internet is mostly used for connecting people – to chat, to watch movies, to play games. But according to Rosenberg, we will soon see the “internet of things”. Smart devices like phone, TVs, even buildings, are now embedded with sensors and electronics so that they can communicate, collecting and exchanging data wirelessly over the internet.

“Instead of having many millions of users, those users being human, we are going to have billions of things trying to talk over the internet,” explains Rosenberg.

The reasons we like wireless technology are also the reasons why it’s a difficult medium over which to transmit information. Wireless signals get sent through the air, and we share the air with many users. Soon, we’ll also be competing with millions of objects too.

“If we don’t do anything, the internet won’t be able to sustain this kind of traffic.”

The challenging part of Rosenberg’s research is that, it’s very hard to predict what the next big thing will be, that will push the limits of our current systems.

When Netflix launched in Canada in 2010, there was no way of knowing how ubiquitous it would become. Now, it’s hard to find anyone that doesn’t have a Netflix account and few people actually watch TV shows on TV anymore.

Unfortunately, expansion of the internet has not reached everywhere equally, creating polarization between the internet-rich in large, urban areas, and the internet-poor in rural areas. Rosenberg’s work is also related to improving technologies, such that the internet can reach rural areas in a cost-effective manner.

Despite all this, Rosenberg sees the internet as one of the greatest feats of engineering.

“It has never collapsed and… I’m very impressed because nobody could [have imagined] how the internet was going to evolve.”

‹ Previous post
Next post ›

Catherine Rosenberg is a Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo. Since June 2010, she holds the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in the Future Internet. She started her career in ALCATEL, France and then at AT&T Bell Labs., USA. From 1988-1996, she was a faculty member at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Ecole Polytechnique, Montreal, Canada. In 1996, she joined Nortel Networks in the UK where she created and headed the R&D Department in Broadband Satellite Networking. In August 1999, Dr. Rosenberg became a Professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University where she co-founded in May 2002 the Center for Wireless Systems and Applications (CWSA). She joined University of Waterloo on Sept 1st, 2004 as the Chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering for a three-year term.

Catherine Rosenberg was on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Orange Group (France-Telecom) from 2007 to mid 2015. She became its president January 2013. She also became the president of the Scientific Advisory Board of the French IRT (Research and Technology Institute) B<>COM on multimedia and networking in 2014.  She was on the Board of Governors of the IEEE Communications Society from January 2007 to December 2009. She was an Associate Editor for IEEE Communications Magazine, Telecommunications Systems, and IEEE Transactions on Mobile Computing, and served as IEEE Communications Surveys and Series co-Editor for the Series on Adhoc and Sensor Networks for IEEE Communications Magazine. She is currently on sabbatical  at the Laboratoire d’Informatique de Paris 6 (LIP 6) in the PHARE team at the University Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC). She was a Visiting Scientist at Technicolor Lab in Paris in June 2009 and in Orange Lab also in Paris in June 2011. While on sabbatical, she was a Visiting Professor at the Laboratory of Information, Network and Communication Sciences (LINCS), Paris, France (from May to Dec. 2012) and in the EECS Dept. at the University of California at Berkeley (from Feb. to May 2013).

She was elected an IEEE Fellow for contributions to resource management in wireless and satellite networks on 2011 and a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering in 2013.

She has been an Adjunct Professor in the School of ECE at Purdue University since 2004 and is Cross-Appointed in the School of Computer Science at University of Waterloo since 2012. She is a member of the Board of Director of Syngene one of the largest Custom Research Companies (CRC) in India.

She has authored over 150 papers on broadband and wireless networking, traffic engineering and smart grids, and has been granted eight US patents.