UCL researchers break internet speed record

The groundbreaking technique could potentially be deployed on existing infrastructure cost-effectively

A team of engineers at University College London (UCL) have achieved the world's fastest data transmission rate.

The research team, led by Dr Lidia Galdino, achieved a data transmission rate of 178 terabits per second, which is fast enough to download the entire Netflix library in less than a second, according to UCL. 

The record, which is thought to be a fifth faster than the previous one held by a team in Japan, is double the capacity of any system currently deployed in the world. It was achieved by transmitting data through a much wider range of colours of light (or wavelengths) than is typically used in optical fibre. 

The researchers used a bandwidth of 16.8THz, whereas current infrastructure uses a limited spectrum bandwidth of 4.5THz, with 9THz commercial bandwidth systems entering the market.

The UCL team combined different amplifier technology to maximise speeds by developing new Geometric Shaping (GS) constellations. These are patterns of signal combinations that make the best use of the phase, brightness and polarisation properties of the light. 

A benefit of this groundbreaking technique is that it can be deployed on already existing infrastructure without too much of a cost. It merely requires an upgrade to the amplifiers that are located on optical fibre routes at 40-100km intervals, which UCL estimates would cost around £16,000.

Installation of new optical fibres can, in urban areas, cost up to £450,000 a kilometre.

"While current state-of-the-art cloud data-centre interconnections are capable of transporting up to 35 terabits a second, we are working with new technologies that utilise more efficiently the existing infrastructure, making better use of optical fibre bandwidth and enabling a world record transmission rate of 178 terabits a second," said Dr Galdino, who is a lecturer at UCL.

"Internet traffic has increased exponentially over the last 10 years and this whole growth in data demand is related to the cost per bit going down. The development of new technologies is crucial to maintaining this trend towards lower costs while meeting future data rate demands that will continue to increase, with as yet unthought-of applications that will transform people's lives."

Image courtesy of UCL

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