For five years, researchers have toiled over an obscure bit of fundamental internet infrastructure that promises to make the connections to our mobile devices faster and more reliable than ever, and if you’ve already downloaded Apple’s iOS 7 to your iPhone or iPad, you could be using it already.
It’s called multi-path TCP, and here’s why it matters and how it works: At present, if your phone or tablet is connected to Wi-Fi and a cellular network at the same time, it can only use one or the other connection to transmit data. But what if your Wi-Fi connection or your 3G connection drops? Whatever data was being transmitted—data for an app, a webpage, an iMessage—will fail to arrive, and you have to try again, usually after getting a frustrating error message or a blank page. Just as importantly, if one of your connections to the internet slows down, or speeds up, your phone has no ability to use its other connections to its advantage, leading to a poorer and slower experience overall.
Multi-path TCP allows your phone to send data by whatever way it’s connected to the internet, whether that’s Wi-Fi, 3G or ethernet (say, if it were running on a laptop connected to the internet via a cable). And if you want to activate it, says one of the researchers who built multi-path TCP, you have only to use Apple’s voice command software, Siri.
This is the first time that this new means of connecting to the internet has appeared in a commercial product. That it showed up in Apple’s software and not Google’s shows that Apple’s technical chops are substantial, even when the company isn’t highlighting what it’s up to.
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