Computer Laboratory


LCDNet: Lowest Cost Denominator Networking

The LCDNet: Lowest Cost Denominator Networking initiative is a new Internet paradigm that architects multi-layer resource pooling Internet technologies to support new low-cost access methods that would enable free Internet connectivity to enable digital inclusion. The cross-disciplinary nature of this initiative cross cutting Computer Science, Social Science, Economics, Law and Policy Research will help uncover the incentives and games that produce successful strategies for getting closer to 100% coverage and access to Internet. The initiative is led by  Dr. Arjuna Sathiaseelan and Prof. Jon Crowcroft from the Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge.


Internet has crossed new frontiers with access getting faster and cheaper. New applications and services are being offered. At one extreme, the future Internet is expected to transport applications such as tele-immersion and 3DTV and at the other extreme to connect vast numbers of tiny devices integrated into appliances, sensors, actuators, and a range of previously independent systems forming the notion of ”Internet of Things". Internet is now seen as critical infrastructure – enabling remote health care, education, employment, e-governance, digital economy, social connections etc. The Internet Society’s recent global Internet survey reveals that the Internet should be considered as a basic human birth right. The survey also revealed that the Internet would play a significant role in solving global problems, including reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, eliminating extreme poverty and hunger, and preventing the trafficking of women and children. Countries like Finland, Estonia, France and Greece have already passed laws recognising the Internet as a human right.


Our Vision

We believe that basic access to the Internet is a fundamental human right like clean water, public roads, work/school etc, because of its societal benefits. We believe that Internet access should be universally available in terms of availability and ability to contribute to the wider Internet community, providing a true digital inclusion of any member of society.


This vision is shared among major stakeholders and governmental agencies. For instance, the European Commission's Digital Agenda for Europe highlights the need for universal broadband access and aims to provide broadband Internet access for all citizens by 2013, with access to much higher Internet speeds (30 Mbps or above) for all by 2020. The UK government’s current efforts to address digital inclusion have focused primarily on allocation of £530m to subsidise industry deployment of both ‘superfast’ broadband to urban areas, and ‘standard’ broadband to more remote locations. In the US, the FCC estimates that approximately 100 million Americans do not have broadband at home. The FCC’s National Broadband Plan aims to support the provision of affordable broadband with at least 4 Mbps actual download speeds.


These approaches are predicated on a desire to support novel digital economy services through improvements in speed for urban users, while simultaneously ensuring basic levels of access for all.


Challenges to this Vision


In the reality of today’s Internet, the vision of digital inclusion faces the challenge of a growing digital divide, i.e., a growing disparity between those with sufficient access to the Internet and those who cannot afford the access to universal services. Such digital divide is of geographical, socio-economic as well as technological nature.


Geographic Disparity:

Providing Internet access to households/communities: Access problems often result from sparsely spread populations living in physically remote locations – it is simply not cost effective for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to install the required infrastructure for broadband Internet access to these areas. This problem is widely and publically recognised, for example, in 2009 at least 10 million households in Europe were still not connected to terrestrial broadband.  In the UK alone, a third of the population lack broadband access – typically those living in rural or remote locations.


Providing universal coverage: Achieving ubiquitous broadband coverage is currently seen as not feasible by major operators as direct investment in local infrastructure may be uneconomic. For e.g. in the UK, the major telecom operators claim there is 90% or more 3G coverage, however the recent BBC conducted crowd- sourcing survey from 44,600 volunteers showed that 3G coverage is far more patchy than mobile operator coverage maps indicating that there are still many ‘not-spots’ – this ironically includes major towns and cities.


Socio-economic Disparity: 

Addressing digital exclusion due to socio-economic barriers is also important. The United Nations revealed the global disparity in fixed broadband access, showing that access to fixed broadband in some countries cost almost 40 times their national average income.This problem is also applicable to developed countries where many individuals find themselves unable to pass a necessary credit check, or living in circumstances that are too unstable to commit to lengthy broadband contracts. Indeed, Internet services are increasingly accessed on the move and so current models of “roaming” access provision drive this economic exclusion to a new level, not currently addressed by the push to deploy broadband. A recent survey in Nottingham, UK revealed that affordability is cited as the primary barrier, explicitly so by over 22.7% of digitally excluded 16-44 year olds. According to the OECD, Spain has the most expensive broadband entry price among member nations. In the New Orleans, USA, the poorer wards have broadband subscription rates between 0 and 40 percent.


We also believe that leaving connectivity for all to be governed by market economics is a major impediment to achieving the full benefits of the Internet, and that basic Internet access should be made freely available to all due to its societal benefits, a sentiment recently expressed by Berners-Lee.


Technological disparity: 
The current Internet architecture is progressively reaching a saturation point in meeting increasing user's expectations and behaviors as well as progressively showing inability to efficiently respond to new technological challenges (in terms of security, scalability, mobility, availability, and manageability) but also socio-economical challenges. This widening range of requirements imposed on the Internet architecture leads to a growing collection of solutions, which each in their own right address a set of requirement while driving forward the fragmentation that ultimately stands in the way of achieving the digital inclusion vision . 


Our Approach to the Digital Inclusion Vision

There are both research and policy challenges to the realization of a future Internet capability that will offer appropriate access to all parts of society. In contrast to the way the current Internet has evolved, the development of the next generation network will demand both collaboration and a shared vision between researchers, corporations, community groupings and governments. There can be no single uniform solution that embraces all types of user and all locations. We need an infrastructure that combines different transmission technologies, while at the same time support an increasingly diverse range of Internet applications. 


Our vision of digital inclusion is a wider goal that aims at expanding the Internet beyond what is currently economically viable with current business and technology models. The goal is wider and includes all aspects of larger participation (in society), safety and security issues (in regions where current methods simply fail), well-being issues (for parts of society that cannot be reached nowadays) etc. The way we achieve this inclusion is through four pillars of inclusion, explaining our approach:


1. Architecture inclusion We propose Lowest Cost Denominator Networking (LCDNet), a new Internet paradigm that architects multi-layer resource pooling Internet technologies into a single architecture than can span over a variety of connectivity options that is larger than today's set of choices. LCD-Net could greatly reduce a network operator’s direct investment in local infrastructure to support wider Internet access.


2. Connectivity inclusion: We aggressively seek to widen the connectivity options beyond what is currently pursued in the game around digital inclusion. Such widening of connectivity options can only be truly successfully through our first pillar, the architectural inclusion, which makes this work across the variety of options we utilise at the connectivity level.


3. Social inclusion: This dimension looks at the wider socio-economic aspects of achieving this, including novel ways of government participation. This aims at quantifying the inclusion benefits that offset any potential government involvement in making some of the proposed schemes work.


4. Business inclusion: Offsetting provisioning of content with caching for future usages, usage of underutilised parts of the network to achieve that, etc. Hence, it outlines models for revenue creation for currently underutilised infrastructure, allowing current business stakeholders to expand their revenues, which ultimately contributes to the inclusion vision.