Terabit Internet by 2020For some, there’s no thrill like having the newest and best gadgets—the fastest computer processors, or the latest iPhone. Inevitably, the newest always becomes obsolete, as something even newer and better comes along. Today, gigabit-capable fiber optics represent the newest and best of real-world Internet connections. However, in the laboratory, at least, gigabit fiber is already obsolete. Researchers at the 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) at the University of Surrey say they’ve not just beaten, but demolished Samsung’s previous record transfer speed of 7.5 Gbps. Over an admittedly short distance of 100 meters, they managed transfer speeds in excess of one terabit per second (Tbps). Just How Fast Is That? As we’ve said before, it can be hard to quantify really big numbers, but to put this one into perspective: the old Samsung record was less than one percent of 5GIC’s new record speed, and even the old record was 7.5 times faster than the fastest Internet service available in the U.S. If you were to sign up for a terabit connection tomorrow, you’d be able to download over 30 feature-length movies in a second, faster than you could click to download each one. The largest game and software files you can imagine will download virtually instantly. Who Needs Wires? Of course, you can’t sign up for terabit Internet tomorrow (yet). The 5GIC says that sort of service won’t be available in the U.K. until perhaps 2020—and we’ll assume that we could also see it here around the same time. But when it does come, 5GIC says they can even meet the 1 Tbps standard wirelessly. While we don’t know the cost to develop or implement this new technology yet, wireless terabit could eliminate the high cost of burying gigabit fiber. You Don’t Need That Much Speed Yet, But You Will When talking about speed like that, it’s natural to ask why we’d even need a connection that fast. But remember, there was a time when 56k connections seemed fast enough and megabit connections seemed amazing. That was because online content was sized to match contemporary connection speeds. No one posted 10 Mb photos online back then because it would have taken an hour to download one. But because our current Internet plans are faster, our online content can use larger file sizes. Photo quality and especially streaming video quality have improved to take advantage of current transfer speeds. Terabit would easily enable streaming 7k/4320p ultra HD, which offers 16 times the resolution of current 1080p HD. Not only is such video already possible, but also, future video will presumably get even better. Not only will digital content involve larger files, but there will also be more of it. As the Internet of Things expands, the amount of data transmitted and bandwidth required in the near future will be enormous, thanks to millions of new devices from appliances to cars to wearable smart tech transmitting data. While speed and bandwidth aren’t exactly the same thing, faster data speeds can help reduce congestion. Expert predictions for future bandwidth requirements show nearly exponential growth—by 2020, we’ll use three to four times the bandwidth we use today. Look to the Future Forget about what we could do with a terabit connection today—think about what we can do with it in the future. Using video quality is a good way to visualize what faster data transfers will look like, but any kind of data transfer will become faster. Blink and your software or operating system updates are complete. Online gaming will be able to process significantly more information with significantly less reduced latency. If you really want to get sci-fi about it, couple terabit speeds with some sort of biophysical implant, and you’ve got a “Matrix”-like ability to download new information. Congratulations—you know kung fu.
Will Smith is a copywriter living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His favorite word is “petrichor,” and aside from wordplay, he loves reading history, watching Dodger baseball, and racing with the Sports Car Club of America.