Today’s Solutions: May 19, 2024

For many of us, our homes have become our offices, our entertainment centers, and they were even where we socialized during the Pandemic. All of this is possible to do from the comfort of our homes because of the internet, and when doing so much online, speed matters. 

On paper, the internet should operate at the speed of light, 670 million miles an hour, but it actually travels 37 to 100 times slower than this. Researchers from Yale University have developed and tested a new system principle that could improve internet speeds up to 100 percent. 

The problem with fibers

“Network latency” is the term for the split-second delay in a signal traveling from a computer to a server and back again. This is a small issue to be expected, which we all just live with, and this comes from the fiber optic cables through which signals are sent. The underground cable network zigzags beneath highways and railroad tracks and sends signals in long circuitous routes between sources and destinations. Another issue is the cables themselves, which are basically made of glass, through which light moves much more slowly. 

Gregory Laughlin, a professor of astronomy in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and other colleagues are working on a project called Internet at the Speed of Light that looks at what’s wrong with our current network and what can be done to make it better. 

The waves of the future 

Laughlin and his team’s findings show that with a network of microwave radio transmission towers across the United States, internet signals would travel in a straight line, through the air, and speed up the internet. Microwaves, in addition to radio waves and visible light, are all non-ionizing radiation. The only non-ionizing radiation that causes cancer is UV light. This principle has already been tested and proven. Stock exchanges between Chicago and New Jersey used a microwave network and shaved microseconds off of their transactions. 

At the 19th USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation, Laughlin and his team presented their findings and showed that a microwave network would be faster and that it would be less vulnerable to inclimate weather than a fiber network. Going forward and improving the internet, we want to make it faster, but also more cost-effective and better able to endure future climate-related weather events.

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