UCL researchers set world record for internet speed

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A team of researchers from University College London (UCL) have achieved a record data transmission speed of 178Tb/s. To put it into context, this speed would allow the entire Netflix library to be downloaded in less than a second.

The project was funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, The Royal Society Research grant, and the EPSRC programme grant Transnet. Working with partner companies Xtera and KDDI Research, the team achieved the milestone by transmitting data through a wider range of wavelengths than typically used in optical fibre - 16.8THz. This is as opposed to current infrastructure, which uses a limited spectrum bandwidth of 4.5THz, with 9THz commercial bandwidth systems entering the market.

To do this, researchers - led by UCL Electronic & Electrical Engineering’s Lidia Galdino - combined different amplifier technologies needed to boost the signal power over this wider bandwidth and maximised speed by developing new geometric shaping (GS) constellations. The achievement is described in a paper in IEEE Photonics Technology Letter, for which Galdino is lead author.

The benefit, believe the researchers, is that the technique can be deployed on existing infrastructure cost-effectively, by upgrading the amplifiers that are located on optical fibre routes at 40-100km intervals. The record is particularly notable during the Covid-19 crisis, which has driven a huge rise in demand for broadband communication services, with some operators experiencing as much as a 60 per cent increase in internet traffic compared to before the crisis. 

The record, demonstrated in a UCL lab, is a fifth faster than the previous world record held by a team in Japan. Galdino said: ‘While current state-of-the-art cloud data-centre interconnections are capable of transporting up to 35Tb/s, 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 178Tb/s. But, independent of the Covid-19 crisis, 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.’


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