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Internet Near Light Speed

This basic routing procedure was tested by a Monte Carlo simulation of a 7x7 array of stations. All tables were started completely blank to simulate a worst-case starting condition where no station knew the location of any other station. Within 1/2 second of simulated real world time, the network had learned the locations of all connected stations and was routing traffic in an efficient manner.

Paul Baran, On Distributed Communications, Volume I, 1964.

The Internet operates at near light speed, which on a planet the size of Earth often practically amounts to near real-time.

Digital information such as Internet packets travel at 2/3 of the speed of light on copper wire and on fiber optic cables. Since light speed is about 300,000 kilometers a second, this means digital communications travel at about 200,000 kilometers a second, slowing down only because because copper and fiber optic materials are about one-third thicker than a vacuum.

At this speed and neglecting switching delays, two computers have to be more than ten thousand kilometers apart, or almost half way around the world, before they experience a tenth of a second in communications delay.

With fixed near-optimal transmission speed, there are only two ways to make Internet networks faster -- increase the number of bits that are traveling at once down the connection, or increase the speed at which you switch them from one connection to another at the junction points.

Internet routers are getting faster and faster with switching speeds nearing instantaneous, while fiber optics and wireless technologies are enabling networks to send much larger numbers of bits at once. The Internet is getting even faster.

Toast.net provides services to test the speed of your own Internet connection.

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