How Not To Use a Very Fast Internet Hookup

If you’re reading this, you’re connected to the Internet somehow or were recently enough to download a copy of the words you are now reading. Hopefully, that downloading experience was seamless — your device connected without you giving it a second thought. But as we’ve all experienced, sometimes, your Internet connection just doesn’t work right. Maybe you’re offline, sure, but all too often, you can connect but the connection is brutally slow. Internet service providers and cellular companies are very aware of this frustration of modern life and, in their advertising campaigns, often promise “faster Internet” for this very reason.

About a decade ago, though, Sigbritt Löthberg didn’t have this problem. She did, however, have laundry.

In 2007, Sigbritt Löthberg was a 75-year-old Swedish woman living in the 60-thousand-person city of Karlstad. She probably had a typical home for a 75-year-old Karlstad resident — who knows — which, suffice it to say, wasn’t very tech-heavy. But for a few weeks that summer, she also had a 40-gigabit Internet connection running into her home. At the time, it was almost certainly the world’s fastest home Internet connection, a thousand or two times faster than the typical home setup. Per tech blog Techcrunch, Ms. Löthberg was able to “download a full high definition DVD in two seconds,” something that would have taken perhaps an hour back then and still isn’t something available to consumers today.

Ms. Löthberg’s boon, though, wasn’t some random accident. Her son, Peter Löthberg, is a famous (in those circles, at least) network operations entrepreneur. Per Wired, Mr. Löthberg “says that he was sent by God to network the planet,” and while the Almighty was unavailable for comment on that claim, it’s fair to say that Löthberg takes the calling seriously. The 40-gigabit connection at his mom’s house was part of Löthberg’s efforts there. 

At the time, most of the consumer Internet data in Europe traveled over copper wires and bounced from server to server until it finally reached the user’s home. Löthberg believed that, by using a technique he had worked on, the same data could be transmitted via fiber-optic cables and over very long distances, without losing any speed (and at a relatively low price point). The 40-gigabit channel to his mom’s house was his proof of concept: all that data came flowing into her home via a fiber optic line which terminated 2,000 km (about 1,240 miles) away. As Wired further noted, “Löthberg’s goal [was] to show network providers that fast and cheap connections are viable, and it looks like he [. . .] succeeded.”

Unfortunately for Ms. Löthberg, she didn’t get to keep the insanely-fast connection; the equipment used at her house was too expensive to keep there. But really, she didn’t mind, because she wasn’t using it anyway: Ms. Löthberg, it turned out, had never owned a computer before and had little use, or even interest, in the incredibly fast information stream flowing into her home. But she did manage to recoup a benefit from her son’s experiment. Hafsteinn Jonsson, a network engineer who helped set up the connection, told Swedish press outlet The Local that “it was a big bit of gear and it got pretty warm,” and Ms. Löthberg took advantage of the heat:  “She mostly used it to dry her laundry.” 

Bonus fact: If Ms. Löthberg were on the International Space Station, she would have had even less use of this high-speed Internet connection. Why? Because she wouldn’t have been able to use it to dry her laundry — because astronauts don’t bother doing that. There are no washing machines on the ISS (that’d be a waste of water) and dirty clothes don’t come back to Earth, as transporting the clothes in that way would be a waste of resources. Instead, as NASA explains, the clothes are put in a disused transport pod which is “placed on a course that causes it to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.”

From the Archives: The Internet’s Hidden Teapot: A hidden bit of Internet history.