Look it’s the next generation network! Comcast tests a 1 Tbps link

Comcast(s cmcsa) tested a 1 terabit per second network between Ashburn, Va., and Charlotte, N.C., the first week of October, the cable giant and its vendor partner announced during a cable equipment show Tuesday. The field trial not only spanned 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), which puts it into real world viability, but it also carried live data traffic.

The test isn’t just about the speed. It’s about the ability to easily upgrade Comcast’s existing network while also running its normal traffic. The test delivered the terabit capacity on the same fiber network that already was carrying customer traffic over 10 gigabit, 40 gigabit and 100 gigabit wavelengths.

As for when Comcast might move to terabit capacity, we don’t know. Many providers have already deployed 100 gigabit networks in major internet corridors while scientific networks such as Europe’s GEANT network and the U.S.’s Internet 2 already offering terabit pipes. Back in 2011, I explained that the terabit age was coming thanks to advances in photonics. We’re seeing those advances hit the field trial stage, which means networks aren’t too far off.

Mike Adams, VP of product and technology marketing, at Ciena(s cien), the company providing the gear for this test, notes that carrier customers are preparing for 400 gigabit and 1 terabit networks now. This could put them maybe 18 months or two years out depending on demand. And since providers are now rolling out gigabit networks to the home and we’re continuing to stream video with our LTE-enabled phones, that demand isn’t going to ebb.

For now, the interesting place to look is ahead, to 100 terabit per second and petabit networks, where researchers are cramming ever more bits into a wavelength. How long will that take?