The internet is running out of IPv4 addresses. Its a problem that’s been around for a few years.
Now a new problem is challenging scientists: The fiber optic cables connecting the physical infrastructure is reaching its maximum capacity.
Growth of online media consumption and mobile internet is to blame.
In a handful of years the signals travelling down the cables will face a traffic jam as the fibers won’t be able to cope with the extra traffic once they Max out. When they reach their limit the signals begin to get distorted. Scientists are working on solutions to the problem. They plan to use new methods to get the maximum out of the maxed out distorted signals by cleaning them up at the receiving end, or use new optical fibers with multiple cores.
The fiber-optic cables that transmit the internet’s data and direct its traffic have a power limit. For decades, researchers have been amplifying the signal passed through these cables to keep up with growing internet traffic. But those tricks won’t work forever: If you up the power beyond a certain point, the fibers becomes light-saturated and the signal degrades. And we’re very close to reaching that capacity limit, according to researchers who convened at a Royal Society meeting in London this week to discuss the matter.
“You can’t get an infinite amount of capacity in a fibre,” Andrew Ellis at Aston University in Birmingham, UK, told New Scientist. Indeed, French communications specialist René-Jean Essiambre presented data suggesting that the current optical fiber limit, around 100 terabits per second worth of data, could be reached within the next five years. Unsurprisingly, the looming capacity crunch is caused by the fast growth of online media consumption through the likes of Netflix and YouTube.
Does this mark the beginning of an internet apocalypse? A slow, miserable slide back into the barbaric days of dial up speeds? Hopefully not. Physicists and computer scientists are already hot on the problem. One possible solution is to blast more power through the tubes— signal distortion be damned!—and figure out how to clean the mess up at the other end. Engineers are also investigating new fibers that contain multiple cores capable of transmitting much larger amounts of data.
Fingers crossed somebody figures this one out. Personally, I might take a zombie horde over the human beings that a world with internet rationing would create. [New Scientist]
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