Internet Speed Record Broken Again
The internet has been around for a little while now. For researchers and scientists, it’s been available as a tool for storage and communication since the late 1980s and early 1990s. For most of us, using it in our homes, it’s a little more recent. Even then, the majority of us have had access to websites and web-based communication tools since the late 1990s. That’s more than twenty years ago. If the internet were a person, it would have been all the way through the education system, and now it would be all grown up and ready to head out into the world. It’s grown and changed a lot in that time just as a child would, and it’s getting even faster.
The nostalgically-minded among us will still remember the days of using dial-up connections, which made a reassuring series of beeps and dings as they set about the task of creating a slow, unreliable connection between you and the world wide web. Downloading a single picture could take five minutes or more. If someone attempted to call you on your home telephone, it could take your entire connection offline. Using the net at peak times for an hour or more could rack up a phone bill so high that furious parents got into days-long arguments with their net-savvy children about it. For most of us, they were the ‘good old days.’ Staggeringly there are still around two million people using dial-up connections in the United States of America, but for most of us, those connections are a distant memory.
The speed of the average internet connection has improved so much during the past two decades that entire industries have moved online. The online slots and casino industry is probably the best example of that practice. Such is the storage and speed capacity of the average server that a good online slots website can store hundreds – perhaps even thousands – of slot games alongside each other, and support millions of players using them at the same time. The success of online casino has persuaded video game companies to move to a streaming platform, with Google Stadia leading the way. Better connection speeds have made Netflix possible. Better connection speeds are also what made Spotify possible. As amazing as things seem right now, though, ten years from now, we’ll probably see the average net connection as slow as limited as 56K connections seem to us right now. We can say that with confidence, because the connection speed limit has just been broken yet again.
The new record has been set in Australia by three different universities together, and the speed they’ve accomplished is difficult to comprehend using any metric. The speed that was clocked and confirmed during the test, which happened in mid-May, was a staggering 44.2 terabytes per second. Some of you will have understood that, but most of you will be perplexed. Because they’re such common units of measurement when it comes to computing, we understand what a megabyte is. We also understand what a gigabyte is (although even that would have been puzzling in the year 2000). You might have seen large-capacity hard drives and cloud accounts offering terabytes as storage, but to see the word appear in the context of an internet connection is hard to fathom. Here’s what it means in basic terms: the Australian research team managed to create and sustain an internet connection that’s roughly one million times faster than the one you enjoy at home, even if you’re lucky enough to have fiber-optic broadband.
With that kind of speed, almost any exchange of data becomes instantaneous as far as human perception goes. In theory, it’s the equivalent of downloading about fifty Blu Ray movies in full in one second. You could download the entire ‘Avengers’ series in less time than it takes to type the word ‘Avengers.’ When a connection moves that quickly, the biggest limitation placed on downloads isn’t the speed of your internet connection. It’s the speed at which the computer receiving the information can store it. Your hardware and processor would be moving slower than your connection speed, and that’s an idea that would blow the minds of the people who worked on developing the internet thirty years ago.
As you might expect, the experimental connection isn’t of the kind that will be appearing in your home any time soon, and it wasn’t wireless. It was achieved using an optical fiber connection transmitting data over a fifty-mile distance. Theoretically, though, it’s adaptable equipment. Because the source of the connection is a single integrated chip, it could be incorporated into existing fiber networks and infrastructure all over the world. To put that another way, it should be possible to achieve these speeds using fiber connections that already exist rather than having to dig up existing wires and cables and lay new ones. Until this research and experiment were performed, nobody was sure that such a thing was possible. Now we have positive proof, and it might mean that the next big step forward in internet connectivity might happen earlier than we assumed.
The technology works because of the invention of a device called a ‘micro comb.’ This single device replaces the work of up to eighty lasers in a fiber optic cable, generating sharp, stable, equidistant frequency lines inside a micro photonic chip. That’s information for the most technically-minded among you, though; we imagine most of you are more interested in what happens next with the tech, and when we can expect to see it in practical day-to-day use. That might be a more difficult question to answer.
The first place the connections are likely to be created is between large servers and data centers – probably those belonging to tech giants. Only after they’re installed there would it make sense for them to be rolled out to the average consumer. Even then, there’s likely to be a delay. The technology that would allow us all to enjoy gigabyte connections at home has existed for a long time, but most of us are using connections with an average speed of about fifty megabytes per second. We need to get up to gigabyte speed before we get up to terabyte speed, and we’re not even sure when that might happen. The future of home internet connections is very much in the hands of the companies that provide them to the public. One thing’s for sure, though – the future is going to be faster. Much, much faster.
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