Researchers unlock fiber optic connection 1.2 million times faster than broadband

In the average American house, any download rate above roughly 242 Mbs is considered a solidly speedy broadband internet connection. That’s pretty decent, but across the Atlantic, researchers at UK’s Aston University recently managed to coax about 1.2 million times that rate using a single fiber optic cable—a new record for specific wavelength bands.

As spotted earlier today by Gizmodo, the international team achieved a data transfer rate of 301 terabits, or 301,000,000 megabits per second by accessing new wavelength bands normally unreachable in existing optical fibers—the tiny, hollow glass strands that carry data through beams of light. According to Aston University’s recent profile, you can think of these different wavelength bands as different colors of light shooting through a (largely) standard cable.

[Related: No, ‘10G internet’ is not a thing.]

Commercially available fiber cabling utilizes what are known as C- and L-bands to transmit data. By constructing a device called an optical processor, however, researchers could access the never-before-used E- and S-bands.

“Over the last few years Aston University has been developing optical amplifiers that operate in the E-band, which sits adjacent to the C-band in the electromagnetic spectrum but is about three times wider,” Ian Phillips, the optical processor’s creator, said in a statement. “Before the development of our device, no one had been able to properly emulate the E-band channels in a controlled way.”

But in terms of new tech, the processor was basically it for the team’s experiment. “Broadly speaking, data was sent via an optical fiber like a home or office internet connection,” Phillips added. 

What’s particularly impressive and promising about the team’s achievement is that they didn’t need new, high-tech fiber optic lines to reach such blindingly fast speeds. Most existing optical cables have always technically been capable of reaching E- and S-bands, but lacked the equipment infrastructure to do so. With further refinement and scaling, internet providers could ramp up standard speeds without overhauling current fiber optic infrastructures.

[Related: An inside look at how fiber optic glass is made.]

“[It] makes greater use of the existing deployed fiber network, increasing its capacity to carry data and prolonging its useful life & commercial value,” said Wladek Forysiak, a professor at the Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies. In doing so, Forsyiak believes their solution may also offer a much greener solution to the world’s rapidly increasing data demands.