Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bell Labs Tests Record Breaking Broadband Speeds

Bell Labs has been testing broadband speeds to see what it will take to easily provide high speed broadband Internet to the masses. Tests were of course performed in a lab, so no real-world results as of yet. However, what they found while testing over copper landlines was truly astounding. They managed to reach speeds 8x faster than the previous record - a whopping 10 GBPS! That’s 1000x faster than traditional broadband speeds and about 10x faster than even Google Fiber.

Alcatel-Lucent, Bell Labs' parent company, dubbed the new technology "XG-FAST." The company called it a "major breakthrough," giving broadband companies the ability to provide fiber-optic-like speeds over the existing copper landline infrastructure that covers most of the US.

Verizon FiOS and Google Fiber, among others have already started to bring ultra-fast fiber connections directly to people's homes. However, bringing fiber to the majority of American households could cost hundreds of billions -- or even trillions -- of dollars, depending on various estimates - not to mention the time and work involved in running the lines.

Taking media giants such as Netflix and other bandwidth-hungry applications into consideration, there’s not much choice in the matter. These companies are basically forcing broadband providers' hands since video over the Internet is one of the biggest factors in slowing connection speeds. Comcast and AT&T are doing their best to combat this by increasing the amount of fiber they use in their networks, but the kicker is they are still using old-fashioned telephone lines to do it - and not only are they sending Internet over the lines, but TV and phone service as well.

It seems very possible that XG-FAST could negate the need to bring expensive fiber for ultra-high-speed Internet. Bell Labs says that XG-FAST can provide up to 10 gigabits per second over a distance of up to 30 meters. So, if there is a fiber connection on the street, it would be sufficient to deliver lightning-fast Internet over a home's existing landline wires. For big buildings, fiber could be brought into the basement without needing to route it to individual apartments or offices. "The Bell Labs speed record is an amazing achievement," said Federico Guillén, president of Alcatel-Lucent's fixed networks business. "Bell Labs is offering the telecommunications industry a new way to ensure no customer is left behind when it comes to ultra-broadband access."

The XG-FAST technology has yet to be approved by the standards-setting International Telecommunication Union, but this certainly gets the US on the right track. Even once everything has been approved I’m sure we’ll still have to wait until companies such as Comcast can get up to speed (pun-intended). And keep in mind that even though lab tests resulted in 10gbps speeds, that doesn’t mean we’ll actually see that. There are plenty of factors that can reduce Internet speeds traveling over copper lines, including the thickness of the cable, signals picked up by other nearby cables and the length of the wire.