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Vicky Nolan

Time Stamping - A U.K. Perspective

12 January 2000

Time stamping has been a big topic in the United Kingdom. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has trumpeted about an idea to establish Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as the standard time stamp for all electronic transactions. (GMT is ground zero or the starting point for all time on Earth.) Two groups--Interactive Media in Retail Groups (IMRG), an association of e-commerce companies, and the London Internet Exchange (LINX)--have already been working on similar projects. (FYI: CertifiedTime, a San Jose company also featured in this series of articles, is a member of IMRG.) IGN spoke with Keith Mitchell of LINX to find out more about what's happening with time stamping issues in the U.K.

IGN: How far along is LINX and IMRG in the development of standardized time stamping?

Mitchell: IMRG has identified a need for better practice in use of Internet time in e-commerce transactions, and has initiated the "GeT" (Greenwich Electronic Time) project to coordinate user requirements in this area.

LINX has recently put into service two Datum Cesium atomic clocks at our Internet Exchange facility in London, with a third to follow shortly. These are based on the long-established Internet timekeeping protocol NTP, within which they are designated "Stratum 1" time sources. The objective is to improve the accuracy and stability of timekeeping for the Internet community centered on the LINX.

Clearly, the LINX infrastructure goes a long way to addressing the IMRG requirement. And on this basis, we have just decided to combine our initiatives.

IGN: Will it be based on Greenwich Mean Time?

Mitchell: It is important to understand that Internet time is based upon UTC (translated from French to "Universal Coordinated Time"), which is the same time zone, and is effectively the same time, as GMT. The Internet time you get under GeT and GNT are just the same as UTC.

IGN: Is it available for anyone or just U.K. businesses?

Mitchell: The GNT clocks will be available to all LINX member ISPs to make available to their subscribers. The LINX has over 90 members including all major U.K. ISPs, around 40 European ISPs and over 20 U.S./multinational ISPs. For our members and their (consumer or business) customers it is possible to reach about 25 percent of the Internet from the LINX without going through third party ISPs. As the LINX exchange is based upon a local area network, delay across it is significantly lower than alternatives.

We are also in the process of synchronising our clocks with other Stratum 1 NTP time sources on the Internet to improve both our accuracy and their accuracy.

It is in the nature of Internet time sources that the "closer" (in terms of network delay) you are to it, the more accurate the time you get from it. The more Internet hops you have to go through to get to a given time source, the more delay in getting the time back from it, and the more uncertainty in exactly how long or short that delay is. The NTP protocol can take this into account and adjust for it, but the underlying physics mean that the most accurate time sources are the ones closest to you on the network.

So, the biggest benefits from using these clocks will be to those parts of the Internet close to them, i.e. mainly the U.K. but also neighboring countries, which have LINX members in them. However, because NTP time is coordinated across the Internet as a whole, our clocks will improve Internet time for everyone at least a little everywhere.

IGN: Is this something that would be made available to online sportsbooks and casinos?

Mitchell: Internet time via NTP can be easily used for any Internet server or application, no reason why these should be any different.

IGN: How would a standard time stamp be implemented? Also, how would consumers be assured of the time stamp and who would handle any disputes between the site and the consumer?

Mitchell: Well, there are two components here. The first is the accurate time source, which is provided by our atomic clocks using NTP. The second part is the authentication or validation of a particular time stamp obtained from that source. This would allow consumers to trace back a particular time-stamp to a given source. Probably this would be implemented using some kind of digital signature or similar cryptographic mechanism, but there is a lot more work to be done here.

IGN: Will e-commerce sites need to buy software or hardware to use the standard time stamp? Can you give me some information about the cost of this for sites and how long it would take to set up?

Mitchell: ISPs will probably need to buy additional hardware as Stratum 2 servers to distribute the time to their subscribers. NTP software is already freely available for most client and server platforms, and it is unlikely there will be any additional charge to customers for using the NTP hardware or software.

Our sponsors, including Datum, Enron and IMRG members, are currently working on application software to tie the NTP time into e-commerce applications with validated timestamps. We are hopeful the basic functionality for this will be freely available.

Further information regarding the U.K. time stamping efforts can be found by contacting the two groups mentioned in this article. LINX is at and IMRG is at

Time Stamping - A U.K. Perspective is republished from
Vicky Nolan
Vicky Nolan