If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even in the U.S. (which has a reasonably fast average broadband download speed of 132 Mbps) over a quarter of households have internet speeds below 25 Mbps. Researchers are constantly working to push the limits on achievable internet speeds, and now, an Australian team has broken the world record internet speed, delivering a whopping 44.2 terabits per second from a single optical chip.
For context, 44.2 terabits per second is enough to fill up around five to ten standard laptop hard drives every second. It’s perhaps a slightly ironic achievement for Australia, which ranks 64th among the world’s countries in terms of broadband speeds, delivering just 42 Mbps on average – just 0.004% of the new world record speed. The development also comes at a fitting time, with unprecedented strain facing the world’s connectivity infrastructure as hundreds of millions turn to tools like Zoom for work and classes or services like Netflix to fill the gap left by movie theaters.
“We’re currently getting a sneak peek of how the infrastructure for the internet will hold up in two to three years’ time, due to the unprecedented number of people using the internet for remote work, socializing and streaming,” said Dr. Bill Corcoran, co-lead author of the study and a professor of electrical and computing systems engineering at Monash University. “It’s really showing us that we need to be able to scale the capacity of our internet connections.”
Perhaps most interestingly, the study didn’t use a specialized laboratory – it used existing communications infrastructure. The researchers instead used a “micro-comb” (a small and light piece of equipment that is able to replace 80 lasers in a fiber network) to augment a nearly 50-mile link connecting RMIT University and Monash University. This test marked the first-ever field trial for a micro-comb.
“What our research demonstrates is the ability for fibres that we already have in the ground, thanks to the NBN project, to be the backbone of communications networks now and in the future. We’ve developed something that is scalable to meet future needs,” Corcoran said. “And it’s not just Netflix we’re talking about here – it’s the broader scale of what we use our communication networks for. This data can be used for self-driving cars and future transportation and it can help the medicine, education, finance and e-commerce industries, as well as enable us to read with our grandchildren from kilometers away.”
“Long-term, we hope to create integrated photonic chips that could enable this sort of data rate to be achieved across existing optical fibre links with minimal cost,” said Arnan Mitchell, professor of electronic and telecommunications engineering at RMIT University and co-lead of the study. “Initially, these would be attractive for ultra-high speed communications between data centres. However, we could imagine this technology becoming sufficiently low cost and compact that it could be deployed for commercial use by the general public in cities across the world.”
To read the study, click here.