How long is a piece of (wet) string?

Written by:
Lucie Sadler
Date Posted:
14 December 2017

It’s amazing what you can do with a piece of string.

Rural desperation
Rural broadband speeds in the UK are keeping deprived internet users firmly in the Dark Ages. It’s not surprising that people have started to look for alternative methods to get online.

When desperation strikes, the image of communicating across a piece of string with two tin cans at the end comes to mind.

Strung up 
This week some engineers at a UK based ISP, Andrews and Arnold, actually carried out a similar test. They managed to make a broadband connection work over 2m of wet string, rather than the normal metallic wiring that’s used.

See, techies do have fun.

Normal ADSL connections are amazingly still used by just under half of premises in the UK, and work by splitting copper telephone lines into separate voice and data channels.

This little experiment was as simple as finding some salty water and string. And voilà, you have an ADSL connection. The string just acts as a guide to transmit the electromagnetic wave, as the broadband signal is high in frequency. It just can’t transmit over long distances.

Super speeds
The techies managed to get the connection to reach Ferrari speeds of 3.5 Mbps, which is apparently faster than some ADSL connections in South Africa. Just don’t touch the string, or you’ll break the connection!

The experiment shows just how adaptive ADSL is, and as salt water is a good conductor of electricity, the broadband signal just adapted to the length and characteristics of the line. It also highlights how broadband faults that seem on the surface to be just ‘low speed’, could be due to poor or faulty cabling.

We doubt that Virgin Media or BT will be loosening knots any time soon, but it does show the potential of making connections work using other materials. Stringband might be the future, who knows.

What will technies try to send a signal down next?

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