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Fiber Optic Technology : Have we reach our Internet Speed Peak?
In the last decade, global internet speeds have increased exponentially. From the early days of dial-up modem access to the modern proliferation of cable, DSL, and fiber-optic lines, the internet has become faster and more stable throughout the world. Like all technologies, however, there is a physical bottleneck that might prevent the continued increase of internet speeds. Data transmission rates of fiber-optic cables have been practically maxed-out by consumer wired internet, so will internet speeds continue to increase in the future?
Current Average Internet Speed
Internet speeds primarily depend on what area a consumer lives in, as this determines the method that local utilities will use to bring internet access to individual homes. In rural areas where it is expensive to build new infrastructure, internet tends to utilize existing phone lines, so speed is capped by the inherently low transmission rates of phone lines w/ modems or DSL. In more urban areas, internet is typically provided using cable, faster than dial-up and DSL but slower than the new fiber-optic internet provided by companies like Google in select test-markets.
Obviously, the majority of consumers throughout the world will continue to have their internet speeds increase as their utilities make investments in infrastructure upgrades. However, consumers in areas that already have cable and fiber availability might see some stagnation in their internet speeds due to the maximization of current data transmission technology. According to a survey of global internet speeds and internetserviceproviders.com, the current average speed of developed countries ranges from 7.0mbps to 10mbps, and that has only incrementally improved over the last year.
Fiber Optic Internet Technology
Fiber Optic internet is currently the fastest technology available for residential consumers, providing speeds in excess of 100 times faster than the more widely available broadband. Fiber Optic technology has been around since the Cold War, originally developed for communications over long stretches of under-sea lines and adapted since then to data transmission via the internet.
Despite the age of fiber optic technology, however, the physical limitations of fiber optic technology has not yet been reached. Theoretically, it should be possible to achieve speeds of more than 100Gbps, although this degrades over large distances so the practical maximum speed would be slightly less. Google fiber, and other fiber internet providers, represent the cutting-edge in current internet speeds, but the enormous investment required to bring those services to areas means that fiber is impractical except for urbanized areas with large tech sectors.
Maximum Internet Speeds
The fastest connection speed in the world is 2Gbps, almost 50 times less than the theoretical limitation of fiber-optic cable. This connection speed is boasted by Sony in Japan, using its “Nuro” fiber based service to provide ultra-high speed internet to a select few Japanese cities. It is theoretically possible for companies to improve on these connection speeds, but there are a couple practical dilemmas that need to be solved first. Outside of big cities, the distances that fiber cable must be laid degrades the top speeds. Additionally, 2Gbps is already fast enough to provide streaming access to even the densest content (3D HD video) so there is little motivation by the consumer market to increase these speeds.
In order for the average internet speed to increase in the future, several things must happen. For one, the utilization of fiber internet in urbanized areas (Google plans to operate in 1,100 markets across the United States) means that densely populated areas will see exponential increases in connection speeds, and this should disproportionately increase the global average. Additionally, new technologies should allow utilities to cheaply increase internet speeds in rural and suburban areas, technologies such as satellite internet and mobile-tower based data transmission. Even the 3G and 4G networks have increased coverage over the last three years, bringing high-speed internet to areas that previously were dependent on dial-up modems for data connections.
Skylar Michelle James is a woman who loves technology. Currently Skylar is a graduate student in the Boston Massachusetts area. She is writing her thesis on the Internet Philosophy. Much of her focus is on the future of internet and what is next. When she is not studying she is freelance writing to keep her in the technology loop. She also does research for internet websites. Please connect with her via twitter @SkyJamesWriter.