A new record for the fastest ever data transmission rate between a single transmitter and receiver has been set by researchers in the UK, who achieved a rate of 1.125 terabits per second using an optical communications system.
"For comparison this is almost 50,000 times greater than the average speed of a UK broadband connection of 24 megabits per second (Mb/s), which is the current speed defining 'superfast' broadband," said one of the researchers, Robert Maher from University College London. "To give an example, the data rate we have achieved would allow the entire HD Games of Thrones series to be downloaded within 1 second."
Optical communications systems allow for super-speedy data transmission by sending pulses of light through an optical fibre instead of using an electric current to transfer information. On the most basic level, it involves a transmitter, such as a light-emitting diode, that converts and transmits an electronic signal into a light signal, and a receiver, which converts the light back into electricity.
The way Maher and his colleagues set up their new system was to combine 15 different channels through which to send the data, and each one carries an optical signal of a different wavelength. Once the information reaches its destination, they’re combined and fed into a single optical receiver with super-high bandwidth for processing. The team dubs this 15 channel system a "super-channel", and it’s the key to hitting such crazy transfer speeds.
"Using high-bandwidth super-receivers enables us to receive an entire super-channel in one go. Super-channels are becoming increasingly important for core optical communications systems, which transfer bulk data flows between large cities, countries or even continents," says Maher.
"However, using a single receiver varies the levels of performance of each optical sub-channel, so we had to finely optimise both the modulation format and code rate for each optical channel individually to maximise the net information data rate. This ultimately resulted in us achieving the greatest information rate ever recorded using a single receiver."
The details and have been published in Scientific Reports, and while this is an awesome proof of concept for exactly how much faster we could be transmitting data... yep, you guessed it - it's not going to be changing your download speeds any time soon.
This is because that crucial super-channel component is not yet commercially available, so if Maher and co. want their new system to be picked up by the companies that control our Internet, they're going to have to show that it can achieve similar data rates in a long-distance transmission scenario. And that's not going to be easy, because optical signals are at risk of becoming distorted as they journey through thousands of kilometres of optical fibres, and that's no good for anyone.
So we've got the speeds, we just need to scale the whole thing up. Hopefully I'll see you on the other side of that 1-second GoT download in the not-so-distant future.