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Australian computer scientists break the record for the fastest internet speed

Chris Griffith, June 1, 2020 6:45PM The Australian

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Scientists Bill Corcoran, David Moss and Arnon Mitchell in the lab at RMIT in Victoria where they worked on the experiment that broke the internet speed world record. Picture: David Geraghty media_cameraScientists Bill Corcoran, David Moss and Arnon Mitchell in the lab at RMIT in Victoria where they worked on the experiment that broke the internet speed world record. Picture: David Geraghty

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Australian computer scientists have achieved a record-smashing, potentially world-changing internet speed over 76.7km of ordinary fibre cables between two Victorian universities.

The results of the high-speed internet test, completed in February, were published last week, making headlines around the world along the lines of: “Fast enough to download 1000 HD movies in a split second!”

That’s a mind-blowing 44.2 terabits* a second transmission speed — or 44.2 million megabits* a second, astronomically* faster than an NBN speed of 100 megabits a second.

The scientists behind this experiment are Dr Bill Corcoran, lecturer in electrical and computer systems at Monash University, Professor David Moss, a nanophotonics* researcher at the Swinburne University of Technol­ogy, and RMIT’s Professor Arnan Mitchell.

“With every experiment we do, we push the envelope* as hard as we can,” Dr Corcoran said, explaining that while the three believed they’d see faster internet­, they didn’t realise just how fast it would be.

“I’d been hunting around for something that would allow me to do this type of super-fast experiment. It just turned out when we tried doing it, it was better than we thought.”

When many Australians, especially in rural and regional areas, struggle to get a few simple megabits a second download, an internet 1.768 million times faster than a cheap NBN connection of 25 megabits a second seems like something from another universe.

Kids Life Inside During The Global Battle Against Coronavirus media_cameraSiblings Alessia, 10, Sybella, 12, and Oliver Bowman, 8, do school work at their family home and cattle property on April 05, 2020 in Tarpoly Creek, NSW. The family pays $400 a month for relatively slow satellite internet access so the kids can learn at home. Picture: Getty

HOW DID THEY DO IT?
The scientists used a device known as a micro-comb, which teases laser light into dozens of strands, like when you comb your hair.

Micro-combs are useful to do things such as measure distances to exoplanets in outer space. Dr Corcoran and Prof Moss applied micro-combs to optical fibre internet.

If you could turn optical fibre into the internet equivalent of an 80-lane highway, with data speeding down each of the highway lanes, they wondered if you could make optical fibre internet perform beyond our wildest expectations.

media_cameraA micro-comb, a device used by Australian researchers to create the fastest internet speed ever recorded. Picture: AAP Image/Dr Bill Corcoran

Australian Research­ Network AARNet gave the scientists access to its fibre network for testing.

The scientists sent data 76.7km across the internet between­ Monash University in Clayton, in Melbourne’s outer-southeast suburbs, and RMIT in Melbourne’s CBD and back again. The results have been hailed as a breakthrough at a time when household internet speeds and connections are strained because so many people have been working and learning from home.

WHY DO THIS?
Some people believe it’s not worth working towards super-fast internet and that most households don’t even use the bandwidth* they have.

But the Australian scientists hope the internet will not only be faster, but cheaper as a result of their work. With Australian internet usage growing at 25 per cent a year, we need to increase our capacity, Dr Corcoran said.

And according to Prof Moss, Australia’s NBN should be able to make use of the micro-comb system. He said the fibre capacity of this system is “almost unlimited”, with just a ­single cable capable of carrying inter­net traffic between Sydney and Melbourne.

A huge part of the achievement was that this experiment took place in the real world rather than a controlled laboratory.

Dr Corcoran said that the fibre made available by research network­ provider AARNet was “slightly aged” — and that it’s “the same type of fibre we’ve got in the ground around the world right now; the same type of fibre that’s been installed for the NBN”.

Which means the test results could be transferable to existing fibre cable of good quality anywhere.

Dr Corcoran believes the micro-combs system should reduce the cost of internet access to the public and the cost and complexity of building fibre internet infrastructure. It would also vastly improve the high-speed internet connections of households locally, and billions across the world during peak use periods.

Prof Moss said bigger bandwidth could be used to carry much more data, rather than just increase speed.

“We hope that allows service providers to expand their capacity. We’re hoping that you get more ­gigabits* per second for your ­dollar,” he said.

Faster data communications could also enhance the operation of self-driving cars and other future­ transportation and help medicine, education, finance and e-commerce* industries.

GLOSSARY

  • terabits: unit for measuring data or digital information; one terabit is 1000 gigabits
  • megabits: unit for measuring data or digital information; one megabit is one billion bits
  • astronomically: massive
  • nanophotonics: study of the behaviour of light
  • push the envelope: a phrase that means to push boundaries or be a pioneer
  • bandwidth: how much data can be sent over an internet system in a period of time
  • gigabits: one billion bits. Bits are the smallest piece of data, a 1 or a O. Gigabits per second is written as Gbps
  • e-commerce: buying and selling goods on the internet

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is the main news in this story?
  2. What speed did they achieve?
  3. What does a micro-comb do? What analogy is used to describe what it does?
  4. Describe the length, location and condition of the internet cable they used for the experiment.
  5. Name at least two areas that could be helped by faster internet.

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Write a sales pitch
Now that the scientists, Bill Corcoran and David Moss know that the faster internet speeds are possible using the micro-comb, they can share their findings with governments and internet providers who may wish to use the technology to offer faster internet speed to their customers or community.

Write a letter to ‘whom it may concern’ on behalf of the scientists, explaining what they have found, when they discovered it, how it works, what it achieved and why this finding would be useful for many Australians. You want your letter to convince the reader to consider using the micro-comb technology. You will need to highlight the benefits of faster internet now and in the future and the ease it would be to use these micro-combs on existing fibres.

Time: allow 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Technologies – Digital Technologies, Critical and Creative thinking

2. Extension
Draw a diagram showing your understanding of how the micro-comb works to increase internet speed. Label your diagram and write a short paragraph explaining the process in your own words.

What parts of this process do you not fully understand?

Write 3-5 questions about micro-combs and how they help internet speed that you would like more information about.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Technologies – Digital Technologies

VCOP ACTIVITY
Aside from this, there is also this!
Brackets are a great literacy tool for adding aside comments, or comments that could be covered over and the sentence still makes sense. What’s inside the brackets is extra information.

They can be used for a variety of effects: to add more detail, to add humour, to connect with the reader etc.

My little brother, (the funniest kid I know) got himself into big trouble today.

Select 3 sentences from the article to add an aside comment to using brackets. Think about not only what you want to add to the sentence, but also what effect you are trying to create.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Would super-fast internet improve your life? How?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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