Apple appears to be breaking new networking ground with iOS 7 by offering the first major commercial release to support a new Internet protocol that transmits data across multiple network interfaces simultaneously.
Multipath TCP, which has been in the works for years and became an "experimental standard" in January, allows data packets to be sent and received simultaneously across different network interfaces such as such as Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and 3G. The new standard is intended to be more robust, with backups that can push data through multiple channels at once, in case one fails.
The protocol is the result of a years-long effort to create "disruption tolerant" networks. While a failure on today's single-path TCP protocol spells the end of a session, the Multipath TCP extension uses multiple IP addresses and interfaces to route data through the least congested path.
Evidence that Apple's new mobile operating system supported the protocol was discovered in packet traces collected on an iPad by Olivier Bonaventure, a professor with the IP Networking Lab in Belgium who is working on the protocol development process.
"Packet traces collected on an iPad running iOS7 reveal that it uses Multipath TCP to reach some destinations that seem to be directly controlled by Apple," he said in a blog post. "You won't see Multipath TCP for regular TCP connections from applications like Safari, but if you use SIRI, you might see that the connection with one of the apple servers runs uses Multipath TCP."
However, how Apple intends to implement Multipath TCP is still a mystery -- even to Bonaventure, who called this the first "large scale" commercial deployment of the standard.
"At this stage, the actual usage of Multipath TCP by iOS 7 is unclear," Bonaventure said. "The next step will, of course, be the utilization of Multipath TCP by default for all applications running over iOS7."
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