Multi Node Label Routing - creating an internet fast lane for first responders

Profile picture for user jbowles By Jerry Bowles June 13, 2017
Slight geek alert. A team of researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology has found a way to create an internet fast lane for the huge amounts of emergency related data. A good idea for sure but will it hold?

A team of Rochester Institute of Technology researchers has developed a high-speed internet lane for emergency situations. The research, led by professors Nirmala Shenoy and Jennifer Schneider, will help first responders communicate faster and more reliably. In this demonstration showcased on 12th May, 2017, professor Shenoy showcases the tech to first responders. Check out this video demonstration.

In the world of emergency responders, time is more than money; it is sometimes a matter of life and death.  Communication between emergency teams with doctors and other decision makers in emergency centers is critical and the rule of thumb is that if it takes more than eight minutes to get there it is no longer useful.

Getting bogged down in heavy congestion on the information superhighway has consequences that can be as devastating as an ambulance stuck in traffic.

The good news is that help is on the way. Researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology are developing a faster and more reliable way to send and receive large amounts of data through the internet.

By creating a new network protocol, called Multi Node Label Routing protocol, they are essentially developing a new high-speed lane of online traffic, specifically for emergency information. Jennifer Schneider, professor of Applied Critical Thinking at RIT and co-principal investigator on the project, said.

Sharing data on the internet during an emergency is like trying to drive a jet down the street at rush hour. A lot of the critical information is too big and data heavy for the existing internet pipeline.

In a flood event, for example, emergency responders may need to share LIDAR mapping images, 911 requests and deployments, cell phone location data, video chats, voice recordings and social media communications.

When all that information has to compete with civilians tweeting about the disaster and messaging relative, the network can take on more than it can handle. Under normal conditions, if you receive an email five minutes late, that is still acceptable.  But in an emergency situation, the implicit impact of these serious network problems truly come to light.

As a result of this increased traffic, links and routers can fail, and as the network topography changes, packets can be delayed, rerouted or lost.  Current protocols—like BGP and OSPF--were invented several decades ago and not for the type of network scenarios experienced now.. They are unreliable and that manifests when a link fails

To solve this problem, Nirmala Shenoy, a professor in RIT’s Information Sciences and Technologies Department and principal investigator of the project., along with co-principal investigator Erik Golen, a visiting assistant professor in RIT’s Information Sciences and Technologies Department, and a team of five graduate students created the Multi Node Label Routing (MNLR) protocol.

It is designed with an immediate failover mechanism—meaning that if a link or node fails, it uses an alternate path right away, as soon as the failure is detected. The new protocol runs below the existing internet protocols, allowing normal internet traffic to run without disruption.

Unlike BGP and OSPF, NMLR discovers routes based on the labels assigned to the routers. The labels in turn carry the structural and relational connectivity information among routers.

Shernoy says the new protocol is “of very low complexity compared to the current routing.” The reason, he says,

is because the labels and protocols leverage the connectivity relationship that exists among routers, which are already sitting on a nice structure.


The RIT team put the protocol to the test over the U.S. GENI (Global Environment for Network Innovation). The group transferred data using BGP and the new MNLR protocol. They ran the data between 27 nodes representing the network of the incident control center, the 911 call center and the office of emergency management.

While BGP took about 150 seconds to recover from a link failure, MNLR recovered in less than 30 seconds. The recovery metrics showed that the new MNLR protocol transferred information faster and more reliably than existing protocols in the event of network failures and topology changes.  Shernoy said:

While BGP has a recommended default keep alive message interval of 60 seconds, MNLR is not so constrained.  In fact, MNLR can detect failure with one missing keep alive message as the failure or topology change information will be flooded internet wide, which can be expected in certain cases with BGP.

The team is continuing to develop and enhance the MNLR protocol and is planning to test and implement the protocol in emergency situations.

The project is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and US Ignite, a nonprofit whose mission is to spur the creation of next-generation applications and services that leverage advanced networking technologies to build the foundation for smart communities, including cities, rural areas, regions, and states. 

My take

Necessity is almost always the mother of great invention and this is one of those ideas that seems on the surface to be a slam dunk. Who can really disagree with the premise that better communications between first responders on the scene with disaster management professionals in the crisis center can help save lives?

As a practical matter, there are at least two possible hangups. The first is whether equipment vendors will broadly adopt MNLR into their current routers. That is a question that may require states and cities to mandate its use.

The second possible stumbling block is that the heavy use of MNLR during an emergency will inevitably slow down other internet traffic.  It’s hard to believe that most service providers and customers won’t thing the tradeoff is worth it.  But, there are probably some customers who would rather face a disaster than lose their FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google.)