How fast can the internet get?

Samsung recently announced their breakthrough in developing 5G network, good news but there’s much better news that is still not told. Ever thought of internet with download speeds of up to 2 gigabits a second?

Well, Google has ongoing plans to install Google Fibre in different cities, they’ve not reached Africa though. The internet reaches the speeds of up to one-gigabit a second.

Google Fibre received a positive response in Kansas City where it first experimented with super-fast Web connections. Residents quickly abandoned other options. Entrepreneurs relocated to the city to take advantage of the unique offer.

Sony is also planning to install a fibre-based internet service in Japan which could reach download speeds of 2 gigabits a second (Gbps). That is twice as fast as Google Fiber, a 1Gbps connection currently.
So, with companies continually outdoing each other and offering faster download capabilities, the question remains: how fast can you go?

Understanding the optical fibres
Optical fibres comprise a silica glass core, surrounded by another layer of purer silica, the cladding. Over these is a silicone protective layer, and one or more layers of protective tubes. Light is guided along the glass core of the fibre by total internal reflection, which results in very little power loss.

Imagine a glass window 5km thick and only losing 50% of the light; this is how transparent an optical fibre is!
If the core’s diameter is smaller than about 10 micrometers (around one tenth the thickness of a human hair), the light is guided straight down the middle. This is a single-mode fibre, and as there is only one “path” (mode) for the light to travel along, its velocity is very precise.

A very short pulse of light will remain a pulse as it hurtles down the fibre, so we can send many billions of pulses per second without them overlapping. This gives the single-mode bandwidth an enormous data carrying capability, much more than a home could possibly want (unless you have a server farm in the attic).

Optical fibre capacity
While optical fibre transmits large amounts of data – and fast – the options available are by no means as fast as has been demonstrated in laboratories.

Even Sony’s 2Gbps announcement pales in comparison to recent research. Reports have shown rates of 26Tbps (terabits a second, where one terabit equals 1,000 gigabits) from a single laser source along a standard fibre, to more than 1,000Tbps along a 12-core research optical fibre. That’s equivalent to sending 5,000 high definition, two-hour-long videos over 50km – in one second.

Given that the total average download rate of the world is forecast to be only 250Tbps in 2016, then a single strand of this new multi-core fibre could carry all of the world’s internet traffic!
Responding to the question-“Will Google Fibre be rolling out to other cities? ” on their site, Google indicated that they were taking it one step at a time.

Adopting super-fast internet however does not fail to come with its downsides. It will call for increased capital cost of the equipment at the ends of the fibre, more electricity for exchanges and increased prices for internet subscriptions. The ‘product’ makes economic sense when shared by many people but would be too much to bear for an individual.

Extracts from:The Conversation

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Kenya Engineer is the definitive publication of Engineers in East Africa & beyond and the official journal of the Institution of Engineers of Kenya. Kenya Engineer has been in publication since 1972.

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