WAITING for photographs, songs or videos to download has become one of the most frustrating aspects of using the internet.
But now a new internet exchange “hub” is being planned for Scotland that will slash the amount of time it takes to transmit and receive data.
Currently, when a person in Scotland goes online, the data has to be sent to and from an exchange in London, even if the website is hosted in Scotland. But experts believe a new hub located in Scotland will increase download speeds by up to 15 times.
Such a hub would consist of equipment within one of Scotland’s existing “data centres” – buildings containing rows of computer servers and other devices where data is stored.
Cutting the time it takes to handle data would speed up the internet for users and would increase bandwidth, allowing more traffic to travel around the internet.
Scotland is already lagging behind other areas of the UK and Ireland with provision of superfast broadband services, with less than 30 per cent availability in many areas outside the Central Belt.
Andrew Ogilvie, managing director of Edinburgh-based IT firm Xtraordinary Hosting, said: “You wouldn’t notice the difference if you were simply browsing the web, but you would begin to notice it if you were playing computer games online or downloading video or accessing your company’s network remotely.
“Countries like Ireland have benefited from having an internet exchange in Dublin.”
The London Internet Exchange (Linx), which runs the existing hub in London, will meet internet service providers in Edinburgh next month to discuss setting up a regional hub north of the Border.
Linx has already opened a hub in Manchester and insists that a decentralised system would also make Britain’s internet exchanges less susceptible to terrorist attacks or natural disasters, such as flooding.
Industry insiders suggest opening a hub could bring about economic benefits by making Scotland more attractive to big international companies like Amazon and eBay.
The company says it could take as little as two months to launch the service if agreement is reached to go ahead.
Paul Macdonald, director of IFDNRG, a company which hosts web and video servers to enable businesses, musicians, sports clubs and charities get their content online, welcomed the proposal.
“The thing about an exchange that is so cool is that all the big networks such as 02, Virgin and BT can connect their networks together and agree that users can access information from the different companies directly, rather than bringing in expensive third-party transit companies to provide that service,” he said.
“Having a hub in Scotland would definitely help cut the time it takes to download videos and other information.
“Mostly the information travels along fibre optic cables, so anything that cuts the physical distance between A and B is a good thing. It takes about 20 milliseconds for a package of information to travel between Edinburgh and London at the moment or 190 seconds to the US,” added Macdonald.
“That might not sound much, but if you were downloading, say, information from the New York Times, that could involve thousands of packets, so having an internet exchange here in Scotland would make a significant difference.”
William Buchanan, professor of computing at Edinburgh Napier University, said his department was “100 per cent behind” the proposal, which he said would help Scotland build its own infrastructure and compete on a global scale.
“This sounds like a first-class initiative, and something we have been pushing for many years. At present our whole infrastructure is highly dependent on London, which means much of the communications across Scotland must go through a London-based gateway.
“While this is fine in most circumstances, it does pose a problem when there is a failure of equipment, such as with a cable break or a power failure, which could have serious consequences for business and users in Scotland. As we increasingly depend on the internet for our business and social lives, the risks of a failure for even a small period of time could have serious implications for the nation.”
John Souter, chief executive of Linx, said he believed it was important that exchanges begin to operate on a more local level. “The biggest difference users will see is in terms of what is called “latency” – the time lapse which can cause gaps – like a pause in conversation. The less distance information has to travel the less problem there is with latency.
“This is very important to games players, where low latency is critical, as well as Skype and other voice services and anything where there are transactions such as banking services,” he said.
Donald McLaughlin, country manager for Scotland at computing giant Cisco, said a Scottish exchange would help meet future demand on internet provision. “Having an internet exchange in Scotland will become even more important as we move towards an “Internet of Everything”, where everything from your alarm clock to your fridge will be connected to the internet,” he said. “This will be the biggest revolution since the internet itself so Scottish businesses and households will need faster internet access to ensure we make the most of this opportunity.”