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'Fastest ever' broadband speeds achieved in fibre test

The "fastest ever" broadband speeds have been achieved in a test that hit 1.4 terabits per second – enough to transmit 44 high-definition movies in just one second.

Fibre: Broadband speeds of 1.4 terabits per second were recorded in a test.
Fibre: Broadband speeds of 1.4 terabits per second were recorded in a test. Photo: iStock

British Telecom (BT) and French networking equipment company Alcatel-Lucent conducted the test on the existing fibre network in London, with the hope of maximising the efficiency of the current infrastructure and avoiding costly upgrades.

"It's a reaction to the growth in demand for video content," the managing director of technology analyst firm Telsyte, Foad Fadaghi, told Fairfax Media. "It's about reducing the cost of carrying vast amounts of data over the coming years."

The chief executive of broadband analyst firm Point Topic, Oliver Johnson, agreed, telling the BBC: "BT and Alcatel-Lucent are making more from what they've got ... It allows them to increase their capacity without having to spend much more money."

Researchers used what is known as "flexigrid" infrastructure, creating an "alien super channel" made up of seven 200 gigabits per second (Gbps) channels. These channels – the paths that data travel between two nodes on a network – were combined to give a total capacity of 1.4 terabits per second.


The gaps between these transmission channels were reduced, thereby increasing the channels' density, resulting in a 42.5 per cent increase in the efficiency of data transmission compared with current standard networks.

Alcatel-Lucent optical marketing leader Kevin Drury likened the technique to decreasing the space between lanes on a busy freeway, allowing more lanes of traffic to travel on the same road.

BT said the test, which was conducted on a 410-kilometre fibre link between central London and Ipswich in October and November, could help it to meet consumer and business demand for increased bandwidth.

Far from being just an excuse to stream endless hours of high-definition video, high-speed broadband can increase access to and productivity of healthcare, education and business, according to CSIRO studies.

However, it is important to note the test was conducted on the backhaul, or core, network and does not equate to the speeds users would receive at home.

In Australia, most internet connections still run on copper rather than fibre-optic cable.

The Coalition government's fibre-to-the-node national broadband network (NBN) is under review, but will  probably use a combination of copper and fibre. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull promised during the 2013 federal election that this would deliver minimum speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps), although NBN Co executive chairman Dr Ziggy Switkowski has since withdrawn that guarantee.

A strategic review of the NBN late last year claimed the fixed-line portion of the Coalition's NBN could achieve speeds of up to 250 Mbps by 2025 and 1 Gbps by 2030.

The average internet speed in Australia for the second quarter of 2013 was just 4.8 megabits per second, according to the Akamai State of the Internet report.

A separate government report released in December found more than a third of Australian premises with access to fixed broadband never achieved more than moderate speeds of 9 Mbps, while there was limited or no access to fixed broadband in many regional areas.

Mr Fadaghi said the kind of technology tested in Britain was likely to be of interest to Australian infrastructure owners such as Telstra, Optus and NBN Co.

"At this point in time it really is only a demonstration of the capability, but it shows that fibre technology is advancing in the backhaul networks," he said.

Meanwhile, South Korea announced on Thursday it would spend $1.7 billion rolling out next-generation 5G mobile broadband fast enough to download a full-length film in seconds.

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