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'Fastest ever' internet speed recorded in Australian research project

Have you ever wanted to download 1000 HD films in a single second? Maybe not, but according to a study from three universities in Australia, it’s now possible.

Researchers from Monash, Swinburne and RMIT universities were able to achieve a data speed of 44.2 Terabits per second (Tbps), breaking the record for the world’s fastest internet data speed from a single optical chip.

Researchers say the technology has the capacity to support high-speed internet connections of 1.8 million households in Melbourne simultaneously, as well as billions across the world during peak periods.

It also has the potential to ease the burden on worldwide internet infrastructure as demand for bandwidth swells to unprecedented heights as COVID-19 keeps people home and more dependent on the internet to work, learn and connect.

“We’re currently getting a sneak-peak of how the infrastructure for the internet will hold up in two to three years’ time, due to the unprecedented number of people using the internet for remote work, socialising and streaming,” says Monash University co-lead author of the study and lecturer in electrical and computer systems engineering Bill Corcoran.

“It’s really showing us that we need to be able to scale the capacity of our internet connections.”

The feat was achieved by using a micro-comb, a small and light alternative to the industry-standard 80 lasers.

The micro-comb was load-tested using existing infrastructure, as opposed to in a laboratory environment, which ‘mirrors’ that used by Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN)– the first time any such equipment has been used in a field trial.

“What our research demonstrates is the ability for fibres that we already have in the ground, thanks to the NBN project, to be the backbone of communications networks now and in the future,” continues Corcoran.

“We’ve developed something that is scalable to meet future needs.

“And it’s not just Netflix we’re talking about here – it’s the broader scale of what we use our communication networks for. 

“This data can be used for self-driving cars and future transportation and it can help the medicine, education, finance and e-commerce industries, as well as enable us to read with our grandchildren from kilometres away.”

As part of the study, researchers installed almost 80km of optical fibres between RMIT’s Melbourne campus to Monash University’s Clayton campus. 

They then placed the micro-comb within the fibres, which contains hundreds of infrared lasers from a single chip, with each laser able to be used as a separate communications channel.

They then simulated peak internet usage by sending the maximum amount of data through each individual channel, across 4THz of bandwidth.

While the project displayed the potential of the NBN, researchers hope to ramp up the current transmitter capacity from hundreds of gigabytes to dozens of terabytes per second without sacrificing ideal size weight or cost margins.

“Long-term, we hope to create integrated photonic chips that could enable this sort of data rate to be achieved across existing optical fibre links with minimal cost,” says leading researcher on the project Professor Mitchell.

“Initially, these would be attractive for ultra-high-speed communications between data centres. 

“However, we could imagine this technology becoming sufficiently low cost and compact that it could be deployed for commercial use by the general public in cities across the world.”