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A New Twist That Could Speed the Internet

A New Twist That Could Speed the Internet
Photograph by Tobias Ackeborn/Getty Images

What strands of copper were to the 19th century, strands of glass are to the 21st. Since their introduction in the 1980s, fiber-optic cables have become the backbone of the digital age. The amount of data they deliver has increased a thousandfold in that time, but we’re brushing theoretical limits on fiber-optic speed.

Researchers at Boston University and the University of Southern California, in collaboration with Danish optics company OFS Fitel, with funding from Darpa, may have just raised those limits. The team’s fiber-optics experiments have transmitted data at 1.6 terabits per second, more than 15 times the speed of cables in high-end data centers—and fast enough to download four dual-layer Blu-ray discs in a few heartbeats.