Right now, the fastest fibre optic line on the market is capable of transmitting 100 gigabits per second (gbps), which converts to 12.5 gigabytes per second (GBps). That’s pretty impressive, but an international team of researchers has decided that it really isn’t enough, and is developing a new fibre optic line that can carry a whopping 2,500 times more data. That means 255 terabits per second (tbps), which works out to be 32 terabytes per second (TBps). In other words, you could transfer 1 GB in 0.003 of a second.
"255 tbps is mindbogglingly quick; it’s greater, by far, than the total capacity of every cable - hundreds of glass fibres - currently spanning the Atlantic Ocean,” says Sebastian Anthony at Extreme Tech. "In fact, 255 terabits per second is similar to - or maybe even more than - the total sum of all traffic flowing across the Internet at peak time."
The technology is being developed by researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands and the University of Central Florida in the US. The sub-sea cables that currently support the Internet consist of what’s known as single-mode optical fibre cables, which means they can only carry a light signal from a single laser at a time. This signal is guided down the centre of the cable through a ‘core’, which means the amount of data able to be transmitted by these cables is, quite literally, limited by the laws of physics. We can only fit so much through a single core.
This new cable, on the other hand, is a multi-mode, or 'multi-core', cable, which means it has seven cores arranged like a hexagon that run along its length. These multiple cores allow data signals from seven different laser sources to be transmitted simultaneously.
The team has tested their new fibre cable in the lab along a one-kilometre stretch, and is now working on the (admittedly very slow) process of getting it to the market. According to Extreme Tech, multi-mode fibre is set to eventually replace the single-mode cable that currently supports the Internet, but that means physically manufacturing and installing millions of kilometres of the stuff, which will take many years.
"It’d be like replacing every two-lane highway in America with eight-lane raised freeways. It’s totally possible, just not economically feasible,” adds Andrew Tarantola from Gizmodo. "But, given how fast the Internet is currently growing, it won’t be long until we need this technology."