- You can get the internet in many ways.
- Someone even figured out how to transmit it over wet string!
- Check out some more of the weird ways you can get the internet.
When it comes down to it, the internet is just a way of transmitting data from one computer to another - so any transmission medium can potentially become part of the world wide web. Here are some of the weirdest ways people have come up with to connect to the internet:
1. Over wet string
Engineers at a small British ISP managed to create a 3.5Mbps connection over a 2m piece of wet string. They soaked it in salt water (which conducts better than fresh water). According to the BBC, though, it's not about the conductivity - the string is just acting as a path for the data to travel along, and since the broadband signal is at such a high frequency, it doesn't really matter what the path is made of. However, the director of the ISP said "there is no commercial potential that we are aware of," so your dreams of starting up a shoelace-powered internet company will have to wait.
2. Through sounds
There's a company in America that's working to develop sound-based digital tickets, for entering events like concerts. Instead of scanning a QR code or a printed barcode, your phone plays a unique, inaudible sound, which the event staff's phone can listen to and grant you access. As Wired reports, it's a bit like using Morse Code to transmit a message, but instead of a long sequence of beeps, it's a short clip of a whole lot of sounds layered on top of each other. The sounds can also be encrypted, if you don't want everyone in the area hearing your digital secrets, and could even be inserted into songs - so you could send a secret message to a knowing listener. In theory, they could be used to send a lot more than just a digital ticket, but at the moment they're nowhere near ready to replace your Wi-Fi connection.
3. Over power lines
Sure, a lot of us have the NBN now, but there are places in the world that don't have fiber optic cables or even telephone lines. One solution is to use existing power lines to transmit the internet. It requires a bit of extra hardware and it's a bit more susceptible to dropping out, since power surges can interfere with and corrupt the data that's travelling along the line along with the electricity. We trialed it here in Australia between 2004 and 2007, but it didn't take off since it was so unreliable. However, you can still buy adaptors that will let you transmit data around your home through your electrical wiring. Say you want to connect your basement computer to your upstairs computer, but you don't want to run an Ethernet cable all the way through your house, and your Wi-Fi connection isn't fast enough for you: you can connect the two computers through the wiring that's already in your walls!
4. Over TV
Picture this: back in the day, when you wanted to watch TV, you needed to get a signal that was transmitted via radio waves to the antenna on your roof. The TV channels we know all had a little slice of that radio signal that belonged to them, and in between those little slices is a lot of what is called "white space". Microsoft is currently leading the charge in America to use that white space to carry internet data rather than TV signals, especially in rural areas that don't have traditional broadband access. It's been called "Super Wi-Fi" - usually when you're using Wi-Fi you have to be in the same building as the router to get a signal; but white space internet can travel up to 10 kilometers, and is able to go through obstacles like walls and trees. We don't have it in Australia yet, but the Australian Communications and Media Authority is looking into ways we might be able to use it in the future.
5. Through something called "twisted vortex beams"
In 2012, American and Israeli researchers managed to wirelessly transmit data at 2.5 terabits per second. That's over 25 000 times faster than our fastest NBN connection! As ExtremeTech puts it, you could download seven full Blu-Ray movies per second at that speed. To explain how they did it, read this: "researchers... twisted together eight ~300Gbps visible light data streams using OAM [orbital angular momentum]. Each of the eight beams has a different level of OAM twist. The beams are bundled into two groups of four, which are passed through different polarization filters. One bundle of four is transmitted as a thin stream, like a screw thread, while the other four are transmitted around the outside, like a sheathe." There hasn't been much news on this since 2012 - maybe everyone's still trying to figure out what that last sentence meant.