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Internet slowdowns might become a thing of the past

News Analysis
Feb 02, 20183 mins

A new way of providing the same optical bandwidth optimization as one sees in huge-scale core networks could appear in homes and small businesses.

3 networks fiber optic
Credit: Thinkstock

Internet throughput issues, prevalent in many homes, may become a thing of the past thanks to a new and inexpensive invention that copies how major internet networks perform data links between cities and countries.

Scientists at University College London (UCL) say they’ve figured out how to bring down the cost of highly efficient optical transceivers so that they can be installed en masse around consumer environments.

The receiver technology, when fully developed, will be able to provide a consistent 10,000 Mbps connection to homes and small businesses by removing a choke point that exists now at the point where fiber subscribers are connected to the ISP, the researchers claim. Average all fixed-line, download speeds in the U.S. are currently only 64 Mbps in comparison, according to a Speedtest study. Optimization should be able to increase that, though.

In an article on the school’s website, lead researcher Dr. Sezer Erkılınç (UCL Electronic & Electrical Engineering) says we are likely to experience bandwidth restrictions because of increased multimedia use and projected 5G and smart device growth that will strangulate available internet further. 

“Our new optical receiver technology will help combat this problem,” Erkılınç says.

How the optical receiver technology works

The invention functions similarly to coherent optical receivers in large-scale fiber networks, the researchers say. Those expensive tools create different wavelengths, actually colors in the core optical pipe. That isolation delivers consistent bandwidth to the customer.

Providing dedicated wavelengths in that way limits bandwidth sharing and one gets what one pays for.

The problem with coherent optical receivers, though, is they’re traditionally expensive to implement. That’s why there’s currently a lack of adoption at the consumer level ISP, and it’s why one can experience internet “rush hour.” That’s where speeds drop by up to 30 percent at peak times, U.K.-based Erkılınç explains. Everybody is sharing bandwidth.

The complexity and cost of a coherent system (based on those core large-scale, city-to-city and country-to country-style networks) “limits the support of multi-gibabit-per-second broadband rates available to subscribers,” fellow scientist Professor Polina Bayvel says in the article. In other words, you can’t have consistent faster speeds; it’s too expensive.

Coding breakthrough

The team’s cheaper variant — which uses a quarter of the detectors used in the full-scale coherent receiver — gains its advantage partly through a coding breakthrough that the scientists claim to have made. It riffs on a system that’s been used to prevent fading in wireless communications.

Additionally, the team’s potentially knock-down-price coherent receiver uses the same pipe for upstream and downstream transmissions. That creates gains, too. However, the necessary unique wavelengths provide the true allocated bandwidth. When multiple users are online, congestion is avoided.

The UCL researchers have tested the technology in the U.K. (where average speeds are worse than in the U.S., at 36 Mbps, according to the university) and reckon they can send data to multiple users at 10 Gbps. That’s 30 times faster than the fastest available broadband in Britain, they say. The next step will be figuring how to reduce electricity consumption. The setup is power-hungry.

“Current technology will be unable to support future broadband demands,” the team writes in their paper, which was published by Nature. The “primitive signaling scheme used [by fiber networks now] diminishes the bandwidth available.”

Our “simple receiver offers users a dedicated wavelength, so user speeds stay constant no matter how many users are online at once,” Erkılınç says.


Patrick Nelson was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Patrick Nelson and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.