The internet of the future could download Red Dead Redemption 2 in nanoseconds

Stock photo of a splayed fiber optic cable.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Get ready for blisteringly fast internet, folks. But don’t rush; you’ve got plenty of time to prepare for it. A team of researchers in Europe has developed a new way to transmit data at speeds that dwarf the fastest internet connections in the world - and they’ve done so using just a simple chip and light beam.

The team - comprised of researchers from the Technical University of Denmark and the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden - designed a system that uses a photonic chip to split a beam of light into more than 8,000 different color frequencies, with each color isolated and used as a separate medium for carrying data.

The technology, which the researchers call a ‘frequency comb’, achieved a staggering speed of 1.8 petabits per second in testing. A petabit is equal to one million gigabits, or 125,000 gigabytes in real-world terms. In other words, the experiment reached an effective data transfer speed of 1,800,000,000Mbps.

To put that into perspective, the average internet speed in Monaco (which has the fastest internet in the world as of 2023) is 262Mbps. That’s just 0.0000146% of the speeds achieved by the Danish-Swedish team; the global average is even less, only 69.14Mbps.

If you’re lucky enough to work for NASA, you could take advantage of the space agency’s private shadow network ‘ESnet’, which can reportedly reach speeds up to 91,000Mbps - still a minute fraction of the speed the frequency comb can achieve via less than a single square millimeter of optic cabling.

A complex scientific model detailing how the photonic chip splits a light beam into its composite color frequencies.

Look, this diagram doesn't mean much to us. If you have a scientific background, perhaps you can make sense of it. (Image credit: Technical University of Denmark, Chalmers University of Technology)

Analysis: This is seriously impressive, but don’t get too excited

Now, petabit internet speeds have been achieved in the past; as reported by NewScientist, the previous record for optical data transmission was actually 10.66 petabits per second, but this required a ton of bulky equipment. This new solution is far more compact, but more importantly, it’s scalable.

What that means is that the technology could be feasibly shrunk down to the size of a matchbox, and should theoretically be able to achieve massively faster speeds once the hardware is perfected.

Asbjørn Arvad Jørgensen, one of the researchers, claimed that ‘Our calculations show that—with the single chip made by Chalmers University of Technology, and a single laser—we will be able to transmit up to 100 Pbit/s’. Let that sink in for a minute.

A Google Fiber van on a street.

If Google can't sort out widespread fiber internet, what hope does this gaggle of Danes and Swedes have? (Image credit: Google)

Faster than speed

100 petabits per second is an absolutely ludicrous internet speed. We mean ludicrous; we did some math on this one to prove it. Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the most popular games on Steam right now, and it’s also one of the biggest, packing a hefty 120GB file size.

With a 100Pbit/s internet connection, you could download the entire game in about 9600 nanoseconds; less than a millisecond, just 0.0000096 seconds. That is wild - this writer lives in a fairly remote rural area with no fiber-optic coverage, where it’ll take most of an afternoon to download a game like RDR2. Just picturing those kinds of internet speeds sends us into spasms of ecstasy.

Of course, we’re not really going to have 1000Pbit/s internet any time soon. Apart from anything else, your practical internet speed - i.e., how fast you can actually download stuff - will always be limited to the speed of your computer’s drive; if you’re still rocking a crusty old HDD, you can’t expect transfer speeds in excess of 200MB/s. Even the fastest drives right now (PCIe 5.0 NVMe SSDs) cap out at around 13,000MB/s.

That’s an obstacle that will take a long time to surpass, but it’s not even the only issue. Although Jørgensen and his team claim that the tech is scalable and implementable, it would also require a degree of infrastructure development on a massive scale that simply isn’t happening fast enough. If it was, we’d all have NASA’s internet by now.

Christian Guyton
Editor, Computing

Christian is TechRadar’s UK-based Computing Editor. He came to us from Maximum PC magazine, where he fell in love with computer hardware and building PCs. He was a regular fixture amongst our freelance review team before making the jump to TechRadar, and can usually be found drooling over the latest high-end graphics card or gaming laptop before looking at his bank account balance and crying.

Christian is a keen campaigner for LGBTQ+ rights and the owner of a charming rescue dog named Lucy, having adopted her after he beat cancer in 2021. She keeps him fit and healthy through a combination of face-licking and long walks, and only occasionally barks at him to demand treats when he’s trying to work from home.