Step aside fibre optic: Bell Labs uses copper phone lines to achieve 10 Gbps net speeds

A team of Bell Labs researchers has announced that traditional copper phones line are capable of delivering an ultra broadband-like connection. In fact, it has successfully used the aged technology to transfer data at a record speed of 10 Gbps.

During speed tests in its laboratory, Bell Labs used two pairs of 30 meter lines to demonstrate how existing copper access networks could soon support at least 1 Gbps internet service indistinguishable from the fiber-to-the-home services currently provided by operators. Copper phone lines would not only solve slow internet speeds; they'd cut costs for cities or locations where it's not "physically, economically or aesthetically viable" to lay pricey fibre optic cables.

"Achieving 1 Gbps 'symmetrical' services – where bandwidth can be split to provide simultaneous upload and download speeds of 1 Gbps – is a major breakthrough for copper broadband," explained Bell Labs in a press release on Thursday. "Fiber can be brought to the curbside, wall or basement of a building and the existing copper network used for the final few meters."

However, Chris Green, a technology analyst at the Davies Murphy Group consultancy, spoke with the BBC and claimed copper phone lines are not a solution for slow internet speeds because they can only deliver speeds jumps that would "drop away at much shorter distances." In other words, rural properties miles away from telephone exchanges would still need fiber optic cables rather than copper lines in order to achieve 1 Gbps speeds or more.

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Green admitted that copper lines could be a more affordable way of piping ultrafast broadband to those who would qualify. But it's not a matter of when this might happen, because Bell Labs and Antwerp engineers have already developed a prototype called XG-Fast. It's an extension of technology, a new broadband standard that has a frequency range for data transmission of 106 MHz. It supplies broadband speeds up to 500 Mbps over a distance of 100 meters. will become commercially available in 2015, but Bell Labs' XG-Fast is a bit different.

The prototype has successfully increased's frequency range to 500 MHz, meaning it can achieve higher speeds but over shorter distances. More specifically, XG-Fast can provide either a one-way data transfer of 10 Gbps over 30 meters or 1 Gbps upload and 1 Gbps download over 70 meters.