Pipe Dreams: 44 terabits per second

Standard internet transfer speeds are around 100 megabits per second (12.5 megabytes), which allows can allow real time viewing at a moderate quality, or buffered video at higher quality.  Australian researchers claim to have increased transfer rates to 44 terabits per second (5525000 megabytes) which is 440,000 times faster.  This would allow transfer of entire movies in one second, and they are using current internet connections to do it, not new systems.  (For comparison, a 56K dialup modem sends 7KB per second, 1 megabit DSL sends 125KB per second.)

Ultra-dense optical data transmission over standard fibre with a single chip source


Micro-combs – optical frequency combs generated by integrated micro-cavity resonators – offer the full potential of their bulk counterparts, but in an integrated footprint. They have enabled breakthroughs in many fields including spectroscopy, microwave photonics, frequency synthesis, optical ranging, quantum sources, metrology and ultrahigh capacity data transmission. Here, by using a powerful class of micro-comb called soliton crystals, we achieve ultra-high data transmission over 75 km of standard optical fibre using a single integrated chip source. We demonstrate a line rate of 44.2 Terabits s−1 using the telecommunications C-band at 1550 nm with a spectral efficiency of 10.4 bits s−1 Hz−1. Soliton crystals exhibit robust and stable generation and operation as well as a high intrinsic efficiency that, together with an extremely low soliton micro-comb spacing of 48.9 GHz enable the use of a very high coherent data modulation format (64 QAM – quadrature amplitude modulated). This work demonstrates the capability of optical micro-combs to perform in demanding and practical optical communications networks.

Although it sounds great (excuse my cynicism), it still presumes everyone has access to such technology.  Internet penetration is still low in most of the world’s poorest countries, and the networks needed are cost prohibitive.

Today, the Philippines mostly uses wifi and cable internet on Luzon.  But in the 2000s when most countries were adopting cable internet, the PI couldn’t afford it.  Many people still used dialup internet until around 2010, and DSL was and is still common in more rural areas because it piggybacks on phone networks that already exist.  It’s slower, but they didn’t have to build anything.  For much of the world, it’s still like that.  44.2 Tbit lines will only widen the disparity between the haves and have nots.

Am I saying we shouldn’t increase the potential transfer rates?  No.  I’m saying we shouldn’t dictate to other countries, “You have to go this fast or you can’t use the internet!”  The “information superhighway” shouldn’t be dictated by roadhogs and Sunday drivers.

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When quarantines were enacted two months ago, youtube and other online services lowered their bandwidth’s transmission quality.  With so many more people at home using the internet, lower bandwidth reduced throttling and increased how many users could connect at once.  It was a reasonable tradeoff to prevent the system from crashing.

So why can’t we have similar tradeoffs?  Not just now during a pandemic but all the time.  Too many websites are poorly designed and bloated, some pages containing 100-500KB of HTML, CSS and Javascripts, not counting autoloaded flash advertising or other resource hogging garbage.  If companies have the technical knowhow to built that much bloat, why don’t they know how to built “light” pages?

In 2017 during Hurricane Maria and other disasters of recent years, some companies built text-only sites both to reduce bandwidth and to prioritize vital information at a time when connections were finicky and battery (and recharging) power limited.

CNN’s “lite” website

Text NPR

Facebook mobile will work on a laptop or desktop, but avoid their phone “app”

Other websites have made light versions though some have since disappeared or were destroyed (e.g. BBC).

There are many sites that offer information on how to create full featured, low bandwidth sites:

wikimedia blog: How to design for low-bandwidth users: a conversation with members of Wikimedia’s Global Reach, Audiences, and Performance teams

oAfrica: Designing websites for low bandwidth

Smashstack: Life in the Slow Lane: Web Designs for Slow Internet Connections

Aptivate dot org: Why Design your Website for Low Bandwidth?

Aptivate lists Ten Rules for Designing for Low Bandwidth. My list would have different suggestions, but it’s a good starting point.

And while it’s a bit outdated, the Any Browser Campaign offers some good suggestions for website design.

If there’s one rule that I would tell site designers above all others: Stop acting like teenagers in 1999.  Stop designing for your favourite browser to the exclusion of all others.  If you build sites using the W3’s standard HTML5, it will work on every browser, including HTML4 and HTML3.2 browsers.


  1. lochaber says

    At home I’ve been running Firefox with the NoScript and Privacy Badger add-ons.

    Some websites are a pain to get working, but it spares me a lot of garbage. I don’t realize how bad some sites are until I try to load them up on a work computer. 🙁

  2. blf says

    In one sense this doesn’t surprise me. (The following is entirely from memory and so probably contains errors (Sorry!). Also, technically, I should be using “baud” rather than “bits/sec”, but the difference is essentially immaterial here.) Early POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) modems were very “slow” (by modern standards), a mere 110 bits/sec (not Kbits, bits!). They used a very simple acoustic encoding, further constrained by the POTS passband (the frequency range POTS can transmit, closely related to “typical” (male (and probably N.European)) human voices). Over time, assorted tricks raised this to 300 and eventually 600 bits/sec. The breakthrough (as I now recall) was the now-legendary Vadic Triple modem, which not only could do both 300 and 600, but also an unheard-of 1200 bits/sec (c.1 Kbit/sec), and could automatically detect the speed of the other end, and employed various tricks to further speed-up common protocols of the time (especially UUCP). The insights eventually lead to even faster POTS modems (my last one, a US Robotics unit (which I still have for emergencies), could do 9600 bits/sec).

    I myself very recently had Fibre into the home installed, and saw an increase of at least an order of magnitude (apologies for being imprecise / vague). Now, e.g., if my Linux system or mobile phone takes more than one minute to update, I wonder why it is so slow

  3. blf says

    lochaber@1, In addition to Privacy Badger, I’d also suggest HTTPS Everywhere. Privacy Badger stomps on trackers, HTTPS Everywhere uses encryption (https) whenever possible (many links which could be https: are coded as http:).

  4. lochaber says


    Thanks, and I’m just in the process of setting up a new computer tonight, I’ll look into it.

    Although, hasn’t firefox been pushing https over http? I think I vaguely remember running into some warnings or something like that every now and then…

  5. says

    I described the “only fast is acceptable!” type as roadhogs. They’re a lot like meatspace roadhogs who view slower traffic not just as impediments but also targets to bully off the road. It’s why we need systems or spaces to protect those who aren’t as fast but have just as much right to commute safely (slow lanes, bicycle lanes). For comparison:

    44Tb connection = a 747 cargo plane
    T1 cable internet = an 18 wheel truck
    DSL = a1960s VW panel van
    56K dialup = a bicycle with a trailer
    1200/2400 = walking

  6. blf says

    lochaber@4, “hasn’t firefox been pushing https over http? I think I vaguely remember running into some warnings or something like that every now and then”. Possibly, though I can not recall seeing any warnings to the effect an https alternative is available for a link coded as http. Perhaps you are thinking of the warnings that sensitive information is about to be sent over a insecure (e.g., http) link? (That can still happen with HTTPS Everywhere, in which case don’t use the site at all as they clearly haven’t a clew.)

    Intransitive@5, Reminds me of an old comment (paraphrasing), “Never underestimate the bandwidth of a van full of 9-track tapes.” The point being that could deliver terrabytes (otherwise utterly impractical at the time), and hence also do it faster (even when including the time to record and read the tapes, in addition to the transport), then any communications technology of the time — and is broadly true today, albeit you’d probably want to use HDDs / SSDs instead of (any sort of?) tapes. (It occurs to me that a suitcase full of HDDs / SDDs could broadly be modern equivalent of a 9-tracks filling a van.)

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