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UCL engineers achieved the record internet speed of 178 terabits per second

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

A team of UCL engineers has achieved a new record speed for data transmission over the Internet. Together with two companies, Xtera and KDDI Research, the UCL research team achieved a data transmission rate of 178 terabits a second (178,000,000 megabits a second). At this speed, it would be possible to download the entire Netflix library in less than a second.

In any system currently installed in the world, the capacity is half that reached by the UCL team. The new internet speed achieved by the team, led by Dr. Lidia Galdino (UCL Electronic & Electrical Engineering), leaves other experimental devices far behind, including an optical chip developed in Australia that was able to achieve a data speed of 44.2 Terabits per second (Tbps). The record speed is also five times faster than the previous world record held by a team in Japan with 150 Tbps.

As explained by the team, the record was achieved by transmitting data through a much wider range of colors of light, or wavelengths, than is typically used in optical fiber. That is, current infrastructure uses a limited spectrum bandwidth of 4.5THz, with 9THz commercial bandwidth systems entering the market. However, the researchers used a bandwidth of 16.8THz.

To achieve this, researchers combined different amplifier technologies needed to boost the signal power over this wider bandwidth and maximized speed by developing new Geometric Shaping (GS) constellations. These are, basically, the patterns of signal combinations that make the best use of the phase, brightness, and polarisation properties of the light better. In this way, they were able to manipulate the properties of each wavelength.

While current state-of-the-art cloud data-center interconnections are capable of transporting up to 35 terabits a second, we are working with new technologies that utilize more efficiently the existing infrastructure, making better use of optical fiber bandwidth and enabling a world record transmission rate of 178 terabits a second,” said Lidia Galdino, lead researcher on the study.

The new technique can be deployed on already existing infrastructure cost-effectively, by upgrading the amplifiers that are located on optical fiber routes at 40-100 km intervals.

The data that make up the world’s first image of a black hole was absurdly heavy and, therefore, had to be stored on half a ton of hard drives and transported by plane. Thus, the speed record raises the possibility of taking less than an hour to download the same data from that image.

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