As the FCC prepares to the destroy the US internet by rolling back net neutrality protections, it’s no surprise that Americans are looking for alternatives to their corporate internet service providers (ISPs). These ISPs own all the cable that routes information through the internet, and trying to replace these networks with community-owned cable is a costly and challenging process.
Fortunately, a UK techie with a sense of humor may have found an alternative to expensive corporate broadband cables: some wet string.
It’s an old joke among network technicians that it’s possible to get a broadband connection with anything, even if it’s just two cans connected with some wet string. As detailed in a blog post by Adrian Kennard, who runs an ISP called Andrews & Arnold in the UK, one of his colleagues took the joke literally and actually established a broadband connection using some wet string.
Broadband is a catch-all term for high speed internet access, but there are many different kinds of broadband internet connections. For example, there are fiber optic connections that route data using light and satellite connections, but one of the most common types is called an asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), which connects your computer to the internet using a phone line.
Usually, broadband connections rely on wires made of a conductive substances like copper. In the case of the Andrews & Arnold technician, however, they used about 6 feet of twine soaked in salt water (better conductivity than fresh water) that was connected to alligator clips to establish the connection.
According to the BBC, this worked because the connection “is not really about the flow of current.” Instead, the string is acting as a guide for an electromagnetic wave—the broadband signal carrying the data—and the medium for a waveguide isn’t so important.
It’s not the first time someone’s gotten creative connecting to the internet. A 100 mbps connection was established using barbed wire, some students demonstrated the internet protocol using bongo drums, and even pigeons.
According to Kennard’s blog post, the wet string connection was able to get a 3.5 megabits per second download speeds. While this is slower than most internet connections to people’s homes (the average internet connection speed in the US is around 26 mbps), it’s still pretty fast considering the connection is over a piece of string. Kennard’s post noted that the upload speed over the string connection was much slower.
"There is no commercial potential that we are aware of,” Kennard told the BBC. “What it does show, though, is how adaptive ADSL really is. This can be important when it comes to faulty lines with bad (or even disconnected) joints still providing some level of broadband service.”