In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) earlier this year voted 3-2 to redefined broadband as being at least 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. The voted was divided along party lines, Chairman Tom Wheeler along with Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel voted in favor of the new definition while Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Ajit Pai voted against the new definition.
This definition of broadband is still way too slow. In American cities like New York, you can buy a 500 Mbps connection that’s 58 times faster than the U.S. average. Here’s the catch: It’ll cost you $300 a month, according to the New America Foundation’s Cost of Connectivity report. In Seoul, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, however, you can get twice the speed, a 1000 Mbps (1 Gbps) connection, for under $40 a month. In New York and Los Angeles for under $40, Time Warner Cable offers a 15 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload connection.
In the United States broadband is both more expensive and slower at the same time. And this is mostly due to government policy as Susan Crawford writes in Captive Audience:
Instead of ensuring that everyone in America can compete in a global economy, instead of narrowing the divide between rich and poor, instead of supporting competitive free markets for American inventions that use information—instead, that is, of ensuring that America will lead the world in the information age—U.S. politicians have chosen to keep Comcast and its fellow giants happy.
Today, Internet backbone connections tend to run at 40 Gigabits (Gb) per second, while 100Gb is becoming more common. That’s good, but that’s not good enough. Fortunately, new research projects point the way to the terabit (Tb) Internet. And we would like to ensure that Westchester is in the forefront of implementing terabit Internet technology.
First, the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) has developed a laser that can quadruple internet speeds. The project’s chief scientist, Amnon Yariv, claims that this new improved laser is “capable of a 4x increase in the number of bytes-per-second carried by each channel” on existing fiber-optic Internet backbones. This alone would boost 40 Gbps backbones to 160 Gbps.
That’s good, but there’s faster coming.
Instead of engineering a better laser, University College London (UCL) researchers set a new record of 1.125 terabits per second over fiber optic. They did this by using advanced digital signal processing (DSP) algorithms to optimize the signal to noise ratio (SNR) to maximize data throughput.
According to lead researcher, Dr Robert Maher, “While current state-of-the-art commercial optical transmission systems are capable of receiving single channel data rates of up to 100 Gigabits per second, we are working with sophisticated equipment in our lab to design the next generation core networking and communications systems that can handle data signals at rates in excess of 1 terabit per second.”
This is done by bonding fifteen separate data transmission channels into a single “super-channel.” Each channel contains data modulated using the 256 Quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM). 256 QAM is the same modulation scheme that 802.11ac Wi-Fi uses to deliver 1 Gbps speeds.
This isn’t just theory. The UCL researchers have shattered old record with a 15-carrier super-channel achieving the highest throughput (1.125 Tb/s) ever recorded using a single coherent receiver.
For now, the UCL team hasn’t tried to reproduce their results on long cable runs. There is little doubt they’ll be successful at delivering similar speeds at not just the hundreds of meters required for a data-center network but for the hundreds of kilometers (KM) needed for an Internet backbone.
Their work, after all, is based on earlier work using similar techniques to bust network distance records. The UCL crew showed their technology could transmit error-free signals up from 3,190 KM (1,982 miles) to 5,890 KM (3,660 miles).
What this means for you at your home or office is that by decade’s end the Internet backbone should be in place to deliver 20 Gbps 5G and 1 Gbps last mile Internet not just to major cities but to everyone. This is presuming, of course, that the local carriers will pay to upgrade their networks and our local Internet infrastructure.
It is worth mentioning that all of the top-performing American cities in the New America Foundation’s Cost of Connectivity study are those that are disrupting the business for incumbent ISPs, such as Verizon, Time Warner Cable and AT&T. Remember Verizon’s $300 for 500 Mbps plan? In Kansas City, Google Fiber offers 1000 Mbps for $70 a month. Chattanooga, Tennesse also offers 1000 Mbps for $70 a month.
If the incumbent ISPs in Westchester are unwilling to upgrade their networks and our local Internet infrastructure, then local governments need to seriously consider facilitating disrupting their business.