How FedEx Has More Bandwidth Than the Internet—and When That'll Change

If you're looking to trasnfer hundreds of gigabytes of data, it's still—weirdly—faster to ship hard drives via FedEx than it is to transfer the files over the internet. But why is that, and when will it change?

Fortunately, Randall Munroe has tackled the question in his latest What If? post. The first part is easy to answer. As Munroe explains:

Cisco estimates that total internet traffic currently averages 167 terabits per second. FedEx has a fleet of 654 aircraft with a lift capacity of 26.5 million pounds daily. A solid-state laptop drive weighs about 78 grams and can hold up to a terabyte. That means FedEx is capable of transferring 150 exabytes of data per day, or 14 petabits per second—almost a hundred times the current throughput of the internet.

But when will the internet catch up? Well, Cisco claims internet traffic is growing at about 29 percent annually, which means it should catch up with the FedEx system by 2040.

But yeah, you spotted it: during that time, the amount of data we can squeeze onto a drive will have increased, too. Munroe crunches through some more numbers over on What If?, but essentially it boils down to your belief in the future arc of fiber and what it can provide for us. If experimental petabit-per-second networks come good soon, the FedEx tipping point may come sooner; if not, the internet may never beat the courier in terms of bandwidth. Let's hope for the former. [What If?]

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