When companies talk about their “fastest Internet speed,” they’re pushing ADSL or cable plans with download rates anywhere from 50 megabits per second (Mbps) to 100 Mbps. If fiber optic is an option, you might hear about 500 Mbps or even 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) connections, but is this where speed tops out? Researchers don’t think so — last year, a team in Germany broke the 100 Gbps barrier, and now a joint effort between British Telecom (BT) and Alcatel-Lucent has produced a real-world speed of 1.4 terabits per second (Tbps). So what’s the secret?


Alien Super Channels?

According to a recent Phys.org article, hitting 1.4 Tb in the real world — between the BT Tower in London and BT’s Adastral Park research campus in Suffolk — relied on two critical features: BT’s new “Flexgrid” infrastructure and what they’re calling an “Alien Super Channel.” Flexgrid works by intelligently altering the gaps between data transmission channels. Normally, these are set at 50 GHz, but by reducing many of them down to 35 GHz, the team was able to increase the number of channels present in their fiber-optic transfer cables, allowing them to pack in more data. The Alien Super Channel, meanwhile, exists on top of BT’s existing network but doesn’t interfere. The super channel was in fact an amalgam of seven 200 Gbps channels, giving a theoretical maximum speed of 1.4 Tbps. In practice, the team achieved exactly the speed they were hoping for, yielding a 42.5 percent increase in data transmission efficiency over existing methods. In real-world terms, this kind of speed would let you download 44 uncompressed HD films in less than one second.

From Research to Residential

While Alien Super Channel 1.4 Tbps lines aren’t coming to local providers in the near future, this proof-of-concept demonstrates that with the right infrastructure, fiber-optic cable can not only outperform ADSL and cable, but reach speeds once thought impossible. Ultimately, this increase in the fastest Internet speed means bigger investment in technology like Flexgrid and Super Channels, which in turn trickles down to other providers worldwide. Alien Super Channels, for example, have significant commercial potential since they can be deployed on top of existing fiber-optic infrastructure rather than requiring companies to rip-and-replace. And showcasing a Tb-plus connection in a real-world setting rather than a laboratory proves the technology can handle day-to-day interference, moving it away from “theoretical maximum” and toward “best speed offered.”

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