NGI Pointer introduces Information-centric networking

NGI Pointer supports NGI architects in a range of activities including information-centric networking (ICN), an approach to evolve the infrastructure of the Internet with a spotlight on identified information (or content/data). This requires changing from a host-centric paradigm, based on perpetual connectivity, to a new network architecture, where content is the focal point, and where connectivity may be intermittent. This (potential) paradigm change is part of the technologies and efforts in the ever-changing landscape of the next generation Internet.

ICN is a clean-slate redesign of the current Internet infrastructure

  • Content is accessed by name
  • Caching is universal in the network

End-host and in-network storage can be capitalized transparently, as bits in the network and on data storage devices have exactly the same value. Mobility and multi access are the norm and anycast, multicast, and broadcast are natively supported. Data becomes independent from location, application, storage, and means of transportation, enabling in-network caching and replication[1].

The expected potential benefits are:

  • Improved efficiency
  • Better scalability with respect to information/bandwidth demand
  • Better robustness in challenging communication scenarios

Image Source: Springer Link

In Information-centric networking the cache is a network level solution, and it has rapidly changing cache states, higher request arrival rates and smaller cache sizes. In particular, information-centric networking caching policies should be fast and lightweight.

This technology is also growing thanks to the development of several projects financed by the European Commission and the UK Research and Innovation detailed below:

ICONET – New ICT infrastructure and reference architecture to support Operations in future PI Logistics NETworks H2020 INLECOM GROUP


€3.08M 2018-2021 +info
UMOBILE – Universal, mobile-centric and opportunistic communications architecture H2020 Athena Research & Innovation Center in Information Communication & Knowledge Technologies


€ 3.01M 2015-2018 +info
INTENT – Information-Centric Network Management and Traffic Engineering FP7 University College London


€ 221.61K 2015-2016 +info
CHARISMA – Converged Heterogeneous Advanced 5G Cloud-RAN Architecture for Intelligent and Secure Media Access H2020 FUNDACIO PRIVADA I2CAT, INTERNET I INNOVACIO DIGITAL A CATALUNYA


€ 5.89M 2015-2017 +info
GreenICN – Architecture and Applications of Green Information Centric Networking FP7 University of Göttingen


€ 2.07M 2013-2016 +info
C-DAX – C-DAX: Cyber-secure Data and Control Cloud for Power Grids H2020 IMEC


€ 4.12M 2012-2016 +info
Analysis and Optimization of Cache Resource Allocation for Energy-Efficient Information-Centric Networking EPSRC Liverpool Hope University


€ 92.02K 2015 +info
Analysis and Optimization of Cache Resource Allocation for Energy-Efficient Information-Centric Networking EPSRC University of Exeter


€ 88.21K 2015 +info
INSP: The business and technical case for In-Network Service Providers EPSRC University College London


€ 972.42K 2015 +info
COMIT: Active Content Management at Internet Scale EPSRC University College London


€ 486.94K 2013 +info

In today’s Internet, ISPs are interconnected with each other, along with big service providers. End-users are attached to various ISP networks. Content distribution is the primary task for today’s Internet. Sources estimate that around 80 percent of Internet traffic will be content distribution, for example video content will make up 82 percent of consumer web traffic by 2020 (Link). However, the traditional paradigm of communication network, which is Point-to-Point, has many potential drawbacks when dealing with large-scale content distribution:

  • Efficiency
  • Security
  • Privacy

ICN tries to solve the problems confronting the current Internet, e.g. content distribution efficiency, security, network congestion. Meanwhile, ICN also poses new challenges on cache management, content addressing, routing.

So, how does it work?

How Do You Actually Name Content?

Three naming schemes in ICN, two dominate the literature.

  • Hierarchical naming:
    • Similar to nowadays DNS
    • Correlates to underlying network topologies
  • Flat naming:
    • Usually done by hashing
    • Self-certified
  • Attribute-based naming:
    • More expressive, richer in semantic structures
    • Can combine with previous two naming schemes

Which Is the Best Naming Scheme?

  • Recall, “No silver bullet in system engineering!”
  • Each scheme has its own pros and cons:
    • Routing complexity
    • Scalability
    • Security
    • Expressiveness

Image Source: Network World


Cisco (Link) has long been a proponent of the ICN, saying that by using such technology the network can locate and retrieve data dynamically from any source – an important feature for future mobile and IoT environments.  As for security, Cisco says this approach secures and authenticates the data itself, rather than setting up point-to-point connections to authenticated hosts.

  • Cisco has been developing what it calls Hybrid ICN (hICN), which enables the deployment of ICN within IP rather than as an overlay or replacement of IP. It preserves all features of ICN communication by encoding ICN names into IP addresses. It potentially simplifies the insertion of ICN technology in existing IP infrastructure and enabling coexistence with legacy IP traffic.
  • Cisco and Verizon expect that hICN will become a strong technology for 5G environments in that ICN adoption may dramatically simplify next generation network architecture by offering a unified content-aware and access-agnostic network substrate for the integration of heterogeneous networks.

Without leaving the United States, another very active company in ICN developments is FutureWei Technologies Inc. (Link), an American corporation and affiliate of Huawei Technologies Company Ltd. engaged in the research and development of information and communication technologies (ICT). They have a large portfolio of more than 60 patents related to ICN (2011 to 2018), dealing with different aspects such as:

  • Hash-Based Overlay Routing Architecture For Information Centric Networks
  • Learning Or Emulation Approach To Traffic Engineering In Information-Centric Networks
  • Verification Of Fragmented Information Centric Network Chunks

Its parent company, China-based Huawei (Link), is also paying attention to this field, having a large number of references about ICN, including publications with collaborators such as the University of California at Santa Cruz and Rutgers University, Robert Bosch GmbH and Samsung.

On the European scene, two companies that are actively working in the field are Ericsson AB (Link) and Orange (Link), both linked to the branch of mobile telecommunications, and which conduct their research and work in ICN in different ways. In the case of Ericsson AB, it aims at the development of new software products and tools, as evidenced by its recent 20 patent applications, among other references. Aiming at potential applications of the ICN in mobile networks, Orange has more than 35 references including publications and conferences.

From the academic side, NGI Pointer highlights several European universities that have been actively working in recent years in the development of ICN technology, such as University of Rome Tor Vergata (Link), University College London (Link) and Athens University of Economics and Business (Link), which all have with more than 30 relevant references that address different aspects of this technology.

Based on these and other insights, ICN seems relevant in next generation Internet scenarios, highly linked to the imminent implementation of IoT and 5G technologies. Evolution of ICN could deliver long-awaited efficiencies and align networking architecture to support the information generation.

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