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The Internet and the need for speed

By Jean-Claude Elias - Apr 19,2018 - Last updated at Apr 19,2018

If you crave speed and driving speed limits cause you frustration, take heart; just go for Internet speed. It may not bring exactly the same kind of thrill, but it has the advantage to be safer, in principle.

Fibre optic (FO) Internet is slowly but surely covering the country, or at least Amman. It is a significant boost in speed but it is not the end of the story. Progress never sleeps in information technology.

At least two new communication technologies are emerging and that may — one more time — transform the web and global networks. These are LiFi and Gigabit wireless Internet. LiFi stands for light fidelity, as compared to WiFi, wireless fidelity. Instead of travelling over electromagnetic waves as in WiFi, data in LiFi will use light (in the visible or the invisible spectrum) to travel. There will be more about LiFi in this very column in a couple of weeks.

Gigabit wireless Internet is a new technique that promises to provide about ten times the speed of basic fibre optic connectivity, and of course without cables at all, what is more! Which brings the usual questions: who needs such bandwidth and what are the consequences of these ultrafast wireless data highways in terms of health hazards, given that they use EHF (Extremely High Frequency) electromagnetic waves?

At this point of our living with the web, we should make the distinction between two aspects of it. The first consists essentially of browsing the Internet, sending and receiving simple e-mails and using applications like WhatsApp. The second consists of uploading large files, doing videoconferencing, updating our computer or smartphone operating system, and last but not least of streaming audio and video.

The first part does not really require Internet speeds higher than the currently available ADSL, FO, 4G or 3G. Even if you have faster connections chances are you will not feel any difference in performance or response time.

The second part is much more challenging. Audio and video streaming alone are very demanding in terms of Internet speed, and the usage worldwide is clearly on the increase. Netflix says it has an increase of 7 million new subscribers in the first trimester of this year. As for YouTube usage we all know how it goes. Streaming audio-visual services are going to kill traditional satellite TV programmes. With Gigabit Internet, video streaming in 4K glorious high definition or even better, will become possible.

Leading music streaming service Deezer offers a special subscription called Deezer HiFi that streams to you pristine, superior quality, uncompressed (i.e. not MP3…) sound. However, the French company specifies that given the very large size of uncompressed audio files, only very fast Internet connections will work with this special service.

Gigabit Internet will also prove to be a blessing when your computer wants to update its operating system. Windows users, in particular, are often angered by the long time it takes for some updates to be downloaded before installing. There will never be anything like “too fast” in such cases. The same applies to videoconferencing, especially when done in high-definition image and sound.

The question of the safety of electromagnetic waves will always be there. EHF works between frequencies of 30 GHz and 300 GHz, whereas traditional WiFi operates over humbler 2.4 and 5 GHz. What kind of health hazard would or may EHF constitute? It is worth noting here that after more than 20 years of research, discussions and warnings, it has been recently said that “after all”; smartphone usage was safe and that there should be no negative impact on our brain by using the devices. Still, the usual recommendation to avoid very long conversations without earphones applies.

Healthy or not, Gigabit Wireless Internet should be here in 3 to 6 years.

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