The Future Of Bandwidth: From 5G To Seven Core

5th April, 2016 by
As incredible as it may seem today, three million UK households were still reliant on dial-up internet access as recently as ten years ago. Memories of patiently (or impatiently) waiting while data trundled down a phone line through a 56K modem remain fresh, even among consumers spoilt by 4G mobile connectivity and domestic download speeds measured in Mbps rather than Kbps.

Connection Speeds and Data Usage

However, even today’s relatively impressive connection speeds will be inadequate for tomorrow’s internet. Our data usage is spiraling thanks to streaming media providers like Netflix and Deezer, and the oft-proclaimed Internet of Things will create an increasing percentage of domestic and commercial products uploading data and downloading system updates. Patience has also dwindled among internet users, with one report claiming a two-second delay in loading a page can lead to abandonment rates of over 85%. This is completely unacceptable from the perspective of ecommerce or content providers, where revenue is lost with every abandoned page load.

The Future of Bandwidth: 5G

What does the future of bandwidth promise? With the majority of web traffic now conducted through mobile devices, the first tangible change will be the advent of 5G communications networks. A trial network is expected to go live during the 2018 World Cup in Moscow, although it’s unclear how a 5G local area network will actually benefit attendees with 4G devices. The long-term scope for 5G is undeniable, however. The ability to download a high-definition feature film in one second should satisfy even the most impatient viewer, and the potential to achieve a one millisecond latency period will effectively eliminate any delays in communications through mobile devices.

The increasing automation of technology is a driving force behind attempts to make 5G an always-on network, as a self-driving train can’t afford to lose its signal for half an hour, nor can a robotic piece of medical equipment being operated through the internet. The mm-wave frequencies used by 5G will offer up to a thousand times more capacity than today’s 4G networks, which will become crucial as traffic levels (and typical data file sizes) expand.

Seven Core Cables

Domestically, seven core cables could effectively provide a limitless volume of hardwired bandwidth. Teams of researchers in the Netherlands and Florida recently clocked a transmission speed of 255Tbps per second, using light distributed through a seven-core glass fiber cable barely larger than today’s single-core broadband cables. The speed recorded in this test was 2,550 times faster than the quickest commercially available cable service and is believed to be enough to channel the entirety of today’s peak-level internet traffic through a solitary fiber. Even if current traffic levels increased thousand times over, seven core cables would still be operating well below capacity.

Google’s Fibre To The Home

While there is little prospect of Google’s ultra-fast Fiber To The Home infrastructure (currently being debuted in selected American states) crossing the Atlantic any time soon, the UK Government recently pledged that every home in the UK will have a broadband connection of at least 10Mbps by 2020. Even the most modest Fiber To The Cabinet speeds will soon be reaching speeds that would have seemed inconceivable a decade ago, and the days of buffering YouTube videos and failed P2P transfers will soon seem as distant as tying up the phone line to check your emails.