'Fastest ever' broadband passes speed test

 
BT Tower The test was carried out between BT's central London tower and its site in Ipswich

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The "fastest ever" broadband speeds have been achieved in a test in London, raising hopes of more efficient data transfer via existing infrastructure.

Alcatel-Lucent and BT said speeds of 1.4 terabits per second were achieved during their joint test - enough to send 44 uncompressed HD films a second.

The test was conducted on a 410km (255-mile) link between the BT Tower in central London and Ipswich.

However, it may be many years before consumers notice any effect.

Start Quote

The trade-off is the more you squeeze into a fibre line, the more potential there is for interference and for error”

End Quote Oliver Johnson Point Topic

But the breakthrough is being seen as highly important for internet service providers (ISPs), as it means a greater amount of information can be sent through existing broadband infrastructure, reducing the need for costly upgrades.

"BT and Alcatel-Lucent are making more from what they've got," explained Oliver Johnson, chief executive of broadband analyst firm Point Topic.

"It allows them to increase their capacity without having to spend much more money."

Alcatel-Lucent told the BBC that the demand for higher bandwidth grew by around 35% every year, making the need for more efficient ways to transfer data a massively pressing issue for ISPs, particularly with the growing popularity of data-heavy online services, such as film-streaming website Netflix.

How much?!

The speed achieved by the researchers topped out at 1.4 terabits per second. But what does that figure mean?

Data transfer is measured in bits, not to be confused with bytes. One byte is equivalent to eight bits.

The 1.4 terabits per second transfer is a huge amount. Enough, BT said, to send 44 uncompressed HD movies each second.

To give that context, according to UK communications regulator Ofcom, the current fastest package - based on average speed for received by customers - is Virgin Media's 120 megabits per second.

There are 1,024 megabits in just one gigabit and 1,024 gigabits in one terabit.

Elsewhere, the likes of Google are installing superfast infrastructure in select places. The company says its typical speed is around 1,000 megabits per second.

There are faster methods of transmitting data - such as the use of complex laser technology - but this is the first test to achieve such high speeds in "real world" conditions, outside testing labs.

Rush-hour traffic

The high speeds were achieved using existing fibre cable technology that has already been installed in much of the UK and other parts of the world.

Kevin Drury, optical marketing leader at Alcatel-Lucent, likened the development to reducing space between lanes on a busy motorway, enabling more lanes of traffic to flow through the same area.

He said flexibility meant some could be adapted to specific needs - like opening an extra lane during the morning rush hour.

In internet terms, this would mean, for example, streaming video would get a large, wide lane, while accessing standard web pages would need only a small part of the fibre's capacity.

However, pushing more data through fibre cables presents a challenge.

The test will be welcome news for Reed Hastings, chief executive of streaming service Netflix, interviewed by the BBC earlier this month

"The trade-off is, the more you squeeze into a fibre line, the more potential there is for interference and for error," explained Mr Johnson.

"What has got better is the fact they are able to pack these channels closer together and into the same space."

Alcatel-Lucent and BT said their test demonstrated "stable, error-free operation".

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC

 

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  • rate this
    +25

    Comment number 256.

    I think the point is being missed here, if everyone has 50-100Mb/s connections that will create the need for huge backbones that operate at 100's of Gb/s. The download speed is always the headline, it's time to improve the upload speed for video and audio. My gripe with BT is the anaemic 500kb/s upload speed I have - hopeless for audio and video meetings.

  • rate this
    +46

    Comment number 173.

    I live in a small village in Wakefield (near Leeds)and where I live we get half a meg broadband speed. this means in my house we cannot stream any movies online at all, we cannot have a person on facebook and someone on the ps3, we can use anytime but it takes about 3 hours just to get to about 50% on a one hour tv show. instead of testing max speed why don't they get all of the country connected

  • rate this
    -61

    Comment number 56.

    10mb is adequate for anyone. 30mb is nice to have. Why does anyone need more?

    Let's get everyone on at least 10mb (I've had it for years and it's a must-have these days), and providing better upload speeds, before we start messing around with anything faster. Even the 100mb fibre rollout is pointless IMO; how it will provide any economic benefits is beyond me.

  • rate this
    -58

    Comment number 48.

    For ordinary home broadband users it's pretty meaningless. It's not as if anyone needs to download "44 HD films in a second" . Is anyone's life so busy that they can't spare a half hour or so, to download what they need?

  • rate this
    +22

    Comment number 15.

    Isn't the advance of technology wonderful? When I first ordered broadband a few years ago, it needed two BT wholesale engineers to spend all day at my house and the local cabinet just trying to keep me connected. A month later, I had a steady 500k line. With advances of technology in the exchange and a new router, I can get 2mb on the same line. FTTC is coming in a few months. Onward ever onward.

 

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