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

Illustration for article titled How FedEx Has More Bandwidth Than the Internet—and When Thatll 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.

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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?]

Image by SkyHawkForLife under Creative Commons license

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DISCUSSION

I wish there was an SSD shipping service.

1. You login to the website and request for a SSD data transfer, and pay a security deposit; and enter your address and the destination address. — A blank 1 TB SSD is dropped off at your house by 6 am the next morning.

3. You have 12 hours to transfer whatever data you want onto the drive. (You may also encrypt the data). — At 6 pm the SSD is collected.

4. The SSD is shipped before 6 am to your recipient (if in the same country), else whatever time international shipping takes + extra costs added to final cost. — The recipient has until 6 pm to copy the files and if they wish, wipe the disk clean.

5. At 6 pm the SSD is collected — the security deposit minus the service fee is returned to your account.

Seems overly complicated when you can just ship it yourself, but if the logistics is handled by another company and everything is automated (all you have to do is, order it, copy your files and wait for somebody to pick it up; all the other person has to do is copy and then wait for somebody to take it back), I bet more people would use shipped SSDs to transfer data.