How New Tech Could Make the Internet Cheaper and Quicker

Faster fiber

Key Takeaways

  • Researchers are investigating methods to make the internet faster and cheaper to manage.
  • MIT and Facebook scientists recently came up with a way to preserve the internet when the fiber is down, and reduce its cost.
  • Work is underway on 6G for mobile communications and the faster Wi-Fi 7 standard for home networking.
Side view of a female IT engineer explaining network connections in a server to a novice technician

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The internet could one day be faster and cheaper thanks to new research. 

Scientists from MIT and Facebook recently came up with a way to preserve the internet when the fiber is down and reduce cost. The system, called ARROW, could carry 2 to 2.4 times more traffic without having to deploy new fibers.

"ARROW can be used to improve service availability and enhance the resiliency of the internet infrastructure against fiber cuts," MIT postdoc Zhizhen Zhong, the lead author on a new paper about ARROW, said in a news release

"It renovates the way we think about the relationship between failures and network management—previously failures were deterministic events, where failure meant failure, and there was no way around it except over-provisioning the network." 

Unkindest Cuts

The ARROW system reconfigures the optical light from a damaged fiber to healthy ones while using an online algorithm to plan for potential fiber cuts. 

Current network infrastructures still follow the "telephony model," where network engineers treat the physical layer of networks as a static black box with no reconfigurability.

As a result, the network infrastructure is equipped to carry the worst-case traffic demand under all possible failure scenarios. But ARROW takes advantage of the fact that modern networks have applications that can be quickly changed, saving time and money. 

"My long-term goal is to make large-scale computer networks more efficient and ultimately develop smart networks that adapt to the data and application," Manya Ghobadi, an assistant professor at MIT who supervised the work, said in the news release.

Faster is Better

New ways to improve internet speeds and make it cheaper could help cross the digital divide. 

"Faster internet infrastructure means faster internet for people everywhere," internet expert Andrew Cole told Lifewire in an email interview. "The current gap in connection speeds—between urban and rural, between wealthy communities and lower-income communities, between developed countries and developing countries—remains a serious challenge."

The good news is that the telecommunications industry and the federal government are making huge strides in providing faster internet, Cole said. 

Illuminated RGB Colored Fiber Optics on Black Background

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Companies such as T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T have launched initiatives to expand their networks to underserved areas domestically and globally. Plus, the Biden Administration recently made a big push to close the digital divide on tribal lands, announcing $1 billion in grants to bring high-speed broadband service to Native American communities. 

Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet company already has launched 1,000 satellites—with a few thousand more on the way—and started taking pre-orders in February. Starlink’s full capacity system could mean 1 Gbps speeds via lasers for people even in rural areas, Cole pointed out.

"Fast internet can’t be a luxury anymore," Cole added. "It’s a modern necessity for so much of daily life, from education to business and healthcare, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic."

The best way to enable faster internet access is to invest in research to improve the current standards, Neset Yalcinkaya, vice president at Quectel, a company that supplies parts for wireless technologies, told Lifewire in an email interview. For example, he said researchers are working on 6G for mobile communications and the faster Wi-Fi 7 standard for home networking to advance the technologies.

The higher the speed, the better the user experience for audio and video quality, Yalcinkaya said.

"Faster internet speeds increase efficiency and productivity with faster access to information and content," said Yalcinkaya. "Having high speed and mobile broadband internet has allowed so many companies to collaborate online from home during the pandemic."

Research into high-speed internet could create high-paying and sustainable jobs for scientists, Yalcinkaya said. 

"Along the way, innovations are created, and new use cases are discovered," he added. "And of course communication continues to become more efficient with faster internet speeds."

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