How New Computer Chips Could Improve Your Internet Experience

Speed demons

  • New chip designs could speed up your internet experience. 
  • Scientists recently constructed a chip that uses light to transmit one million gigabits of data per second. 
  • The growth of fiber optic cables and satellite internet could also offer faster alternatives to current internet service.
A processor chip on a computer board.

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Your internet sessions might soon get a lot faster, thanks to new advances in chip technology. 

Researchers recently used a single chip to transfer over one million gigabits of data per second over a fiber optical cable. It's part of a new wave of chips that could transform the internet. 

"Internet traffic is increasing, so we need advanced chips to make sure the internet keeps up with demand. If the tech stays stagnant, the growing use will invariably slow down speeds for everyone," Bob Rogers, the CEO of the data science company and the former chief data scientist at chip maker Intel, told Lifewire in an email interview. "So researchers are looking for ways to shrink chips while at the same time increasing their capacity."

Faster Chips Via Lasers

The international group of researchers achieved their dizzying data transmission speeds and claimed to be the first to transmit more than one petabit per second (Pbit/s) using only a single laser and a single optical chip. One petabit corresponds to about one million gigabits.

Chips currently in use require electricity to run and transmit data. But the new chip design is powered by laser light. 

New chip designs are needed to increase speed and reliability, especially for parts of the world that can't get consistent internet.

The researchers managed to transmit a vast amount of data using light from one optical source. The light source is a custom-designed optical chip that can use the light from a single infrared laser to create a rainbow spectrum of many colors or different frequencies. 

"What is special about this chip is that it produces a frequency comb with ideal characteristics for fiber-optical communications—it has high optical power and covers a broad bandwidth within the spectral region that is interesting for advanced optical communications," Victor Torres-Company, the head of the research group that developed the chip, said in a news release.

The researchers created a computer model to examine the theoretical limit for data transmission using a single chip like the one in the experiment. 

"Our calculations show that with the single chip made by the Chalmers University of Technology and a single laser, we will be able to transmit up to 100 Pbit/s," Leif Katsuo Oxenløwe, a professor at the Technical University of Denmark, said in the news release. "The reason for this is that our solution is scalable—both in terms of creating many frequencies and in terms of splitting the frequency comb into many spatial copies and then optically amplifying them and using them as parallel sources with which we can transmit data."

Better Browsing

New chips aren't the only way to speed up the internet. Many internet service providers still rely on older copper wire and coaxial networks, but the internet company Clearwave Fiber recently announced it plans to install faster fiber optic cable to 500,000 homes and businesses across the US by the end of 2026.

Closeup of a gloved hand holding a computer chip.

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"Copper lines are great for telephone calls, and coax worked well for cable TV, but those networks struggle to deliver the kind of bandwidth possible with fiber," said Clearwave Fiber Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Lastinger in a news release

Satellite internet is another area that's heating up. Amazon said recently that it's opening a new plant to build satellites for Project Kuiper, the company's plan to build a network of 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit to provide high-speed broadband internet. Amazon hit a key target in 2020 when the Federal Communications Commission authorized the satellite internet system.

"Getting Project Kuiper's satellites into space requires significant precision, expertise, and a world-class team committed to our vision," Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper, said in the Amazon news release. "This new satellite production facility will significantly expand our manufacturing capacity as we approach launch and deployment, and it brings us another step closer to delivering on our mission to connect unserved and underserved communities around the world."

Rogers noted that Internet users get frustrated when speeds are slow, connections drop, or internet companies throttle usage when there's high traffic. There are people whose accounts may charge overages if they exceed the allotted amount. 

"New chip designs are needed to increase speed and reliability, especially for parts of the world that can't get consistent internet," he added. "Making them smaller, lighter, more powerful, but more energy efficient—all those factors can improve user experience. Presumably, more advanced chips can reduce costs for companies, and they can pass on the savings to the consumer."

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