We tend to think of telephone exchanges and line lengths when we consider what limits the speed of our Internet connections, but there's another even larger factor many don't realise and scientists think they may have an ambitious solution...
Routing information is the major killer of data speeds. Contrary to common perception it isn't the distance data has to be carried - fibre optic cables transport information vast distances at a number terahertz - rather the bottleneck occurs approaching the end of its journey when bulky equipment has the job of separating it off to specific destinations. Think of high speed Post Office machines.
The solution? According to scientists: metamaterials. Yep, that crazy stuff which is at the forefront of invisibility cloaks and it's all about light refraction. In essence using metamaterials to create 'all optical networks' would see data streams sorted by slowing them down tiny fractions and using these increments like tags to categorise and automate their destination.
The contrast: data could arrive at its destination at several terahertz instead of several gigahertz meaning rocket fast speeds can be maintained far from the exchange with greater bandwidth for all and at heavily reduced costs as it would mean goodbye bulky equipment and reduced costs.
"The ability to slow the light could be a tremendous force for telecoms that is sure to enhance speed and efficiency," says Professor Xiang Zhang (above), the University of California researcher also famed for his work with metamaterials in cloaking.
Naturally, as with all seemingly flawless technical innovations we haven't got a clue. Still, with speed and bandwidth becoming ever more valuable commodities due to the likes of iPlayer and iTunes expect a number of (multinational) heads to be turned by this...