But what does that even mean? It is actually quite simple. Download and upload speed means the amount of information that can be transmitted through your router in one second. So if you had 1 Mbps of download speed, then it would take approximately 10 seconds to download a file from the internet that has a size of 10 Megabytes. Technically speaking, this is called bandwidth. But, why are some people’s internet faster than others and what makes the internet “slow” at times?
Well, if we are strictly speaking about download and upload speeds through a personal router, then there are just a few factors that come into play. First off, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), like Comcast and Verizon, apply restrictions on the amount of bandwidth a business or a person may obtain. Obviously, larger amounts of bandwidth cost more money, so some people opt to save by having a slower internet. Personally, when I first found out about this a few years ago it shocked me. I figured that it would be illegal to intentionally slow the internet of different people, but I suppose I understand now, since I learned just how greedy ISPs truly are.
ISPs purposely limiting the amount of bandwidth is possibly the biggest reason why your internet speed is what it is. I personally have the package with Verizon that has the fastest internet speed at 75 Mbps for download and upload speed. However, I used to have the package that just had 25 Mbps and my internet speeds were much worse. But, there are a few other factors that determine internet speed. Having multiple devices connected to one router can strain the bandwidth, causing the internet to be slow for all devices. This is due to these devices demanding too much information from the internet at the same time and the download/upload rates cannot keep up. Another possible source that can slow down internet speed is malware or adware within a system. Malicious software may run in the background without you knowing it, eating up the bandwidth. Therefore, if you are experiencing slow internet it is important to have an anti-malware software, like Malwarebytes, that can be used to remove this bandwidth draining software.
Now, let’s say that ISPs did not have any of these unnecessary restrictions and that there was absolutely no interference at all with a signal being transferred through a fiber optic cable. This would be the perfect setup, as it would allow internet speeds to reach their theoretical limit. But what would that limit be? As you may know, information is limited to travelling at the speed of light or slower, however, bandwidth is slightly different. Bandwidth is not necessarily determined by how fast information actually travels through a cable connected to a router. Rather, bandwidth is capped by the frequency of the light that is being used to transmit the signal to and from the router. Fiber optic cables can apparently have light oscillating within them at 330 THz, or 330,000,000,000,000 oscillations of light per second. However, it is impossible for the router to actually process information this quickly. Now we are getting pretty crazy at this point, but let’s pretend that we are blessed with a router given to us by God himself that can handle frequencies that high. Then we would be looking at a bandwidth of 330 Tbps. But, we must go further. Light frequencies can go much, much higher than 330 THz and according to string theory, the highest possible frequency would be about 1020 Hz. Now realistically, we would never be able to consistently provide a frequency like this, however, we already crossed the line of crazy so we may as well see just how far we can push the limits.
So, if we had a consistent stream of light oscillating at 1020 Hz, then that means that our theoretical bandwidth would be 1020 bps. But, that is only if we have a single fiber optic strand transmitting information. A small fiber optic strand has a diameter of about 400 microns or 0.0004 meters thick.
Currently the highest number of strands in a fiber optic cable is 864. So, if we do a bit of math, then 864 * 1020 = 8.64 * 1022 bps. However, the number of strands within fiber optic cables only continues to rise and there is no reason why 864 should remain the limit. By adding more and more strands, the theoretical highest bandwidth only continues to rise, until it reaches levels that are so impractically large that they may as well be infinite.
In conclusion, the speed limit of the internet is practically infinite for our purposes. If we were to ever create a router that could even withstand the frequencies emitted by current fiber optic cables, then the entire internet could be processed by a single router all at the same time. However, even if we were able to obtain a magical router capable of doing this, I’m sure that even divine intervention would not stop ISPs from capping bandwidth. Therefore, we’re all just gonna be stuck at a measly 10,000,000 bytes per second instead of 86,400,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes per second.