Researchers hailing from England's University of Southampton claim to have discovered a method for transferring data near the limits of our Universe -- 99.7 percent the speed of light. Their secret? A flexible fiber optic cable with a vacuously hollow interior. The feat promises speeds greater than 73 terabits per second making it thousands of times faster than even the best, existing fiber optic links -- even if only at short distances.

There is no denying that fiber optic cables allow for truly speedy data transmissions. However, even though fiber optic cables serve as an ultra-slippery race track for what is essentially a photonic luge; those photons don't actually travel at the speed of light. Rather, the medium in which those pulses travel -- the optical fiber itself -- slows down photons by as much as 31 percent.

In a vacuum, light travels an astounding 670,616,629 miles per hour (or about 186,282 miles per second). The researcher's hollow-core fiber unleashes the near-full potential of that incredible speed, delivering far lower latency and greater data throughput than conventional fiber.

Here, we report a fundamentally improved hollow-core photonic-bandgap fibre that provides a record combination of low loss (3.5 dB km−1) and wide bandwidth (160 nm), and use it to transmit 37 × 40 Gbit s−1 channels at a 1.54 µs km−1 faster speed than in a conventional fibre. This represents the first experimental demonstration of fibre-based wavelength division multiplexed data transmission at close to (99.7%) the speed of light in vacuum.

Source: Abstract from "Towards high-capacity fibre-optic communications at the speed of light in vacuum"

However, being hollow isn't the new cabling's only special attribute. Researchers had to also devise an incredibly thin, internal "photonic-bandgap" sheathe. This special rim allows photons to follow the curve of the cable, even while it is bent -- purportedly the Achilles heel of past attempts with hollow fiber.

This isn't the first time we've seen impressive numbers generated by scientists working with fiber optics, but it does mark the first time such high speeds have been achieved under specific conditions. Other details, like practical distances and expense were not discussed.