There has often been excess capacity in our telecommunications infrastructure.
Dial-up internet data was piped into our homes at a rate of kilobits per second. Yet those same copper phone lines are now able to transmit data at a far more acceptable 11Mbps.
Similarly, fibre optic cabling has often been weighed down by the technology of the time.
Fibre to the Cabinet connections see ultrafast data transfers being hobbled for the final leg of their journey into our homes, along those copper phone lines.
Even full fibre services from companies like Hyperoptic and Virgin Media don’t necessarily achieve the full potential offered by the wiring within those chunky subterranean cables.
So what sort of fibre cable data speeds are achievable? And how might this benefit private consumers in the years and decades to come?
(Almost) faster than the speed of light
Optical fibre cable data speeds could theoretically approach the speed of light, since information is transmitted along them in the form of light particles, or photons.
These cables can also transfer huge quantities of data at once, effectively eliminating concepts like buffering or loading.
A team of researchers in Australia recently recorded a speed of 44.2 Terabits per second (Tbps), from a single light source.
The latter point is particularly pertinent, because previous speed tests have used dozens of lasers to achieve transfer rates which would be hard to replicate outside a laboratory.
Conversely, the Australian team transmitted data along existing communications infrastructure using one small, lightweight piece of hardware.
Although this hardware (known as a micro-comb) is primarily intended to connect data centres together, it could be rolled out to private homes and small offices quite affordably.
Why does this matter?
It matters for a number of reasons.
Firstly, we’re consuming more and more multimedia content over the internet, in lieu of watching DVDs or going to the cinema.
Secondly, many web-enabled devices are constantly sending and receiving information even when they’re supposedly on standby, which drains available bandwidth further.
The current domestic roster of Hives, Alexas and Sky Q hubs will only increase as more and more devices hook onto our WiFi networks.
Even as the coronavirus lockdown lifts, millions of people are likely to continue working from home, placing extra strain on domestic connections.
Plus, as this week’s feature about the fourth industrial revolution explains, the internet is going to expand into every aspect of our lives.
To transmit the wealth of information required to support our increasingly automated future, fibre cable data speeds will need to be far quicker than they are today.
And while the UK Government’s pledge to provide every home with 1Gbps line speeds by 2025 seems ambitious, it’ll require terabyte networks to deliver domestic gigabit connectivity.
As such, the emergence of technologies like micro-comb fibre cabling is vital for ensuring the UK’s broadband network is truly future-proof.