By sending data using different colors of light, operators of the ultra high-speed Internet2 network are hoping to boost the research and education network’s capacity by as much as 80-fold–better enabling researchers and academics to connect telescopes around the world and perform other bandwidth-intensive tasks.

The new network should be in place by fall 2007, said Douglas Van Houweling, Internet2’s chief executive.

He announced the plans this week as researchers set a new networking speed record–8.8 gigabits per second (Gbps), nearing the Internet2’s current theoretical limit of 10 Gbps, which is thousands of times faster than standard home broadband connections.

“We have applications now that need more than 10 gigabits of capacity,” Van Houweling said by phone April 26 from the nonprofit Internet2 consortium’s twice-annual meeting in Arlington, Va.

The Internet2 network, which parallels the regular internet and allows universities, researchers, and even some K-12 school systems to share large amounts of information in real time, currently uses shared fiber-optic cables run by Qwest Communications International.

In the new network, Internet2 will have the cables all to itself. Operators initially will be able to transmit data using 10 colors, or wavelengths, of light over a single cable, giving the network a capacity of 100 Gbps. Eventually, Internet2 hopes to transmit on 80 wavelengths.

Although the ability to send data using multiple wavelengths isn’t new, Van Houweling said Internet2 will be deploying new circuits that each can interpret all 10 wavelengths.

The new network will still be run by a contractor, which Van Houweling wouldn’t name.

With the 10-fold increase, a high-quality version of the movie The Matrix could be sent in a few seconds rather than half a minute over the current Internet2 and two days over a typical home broadband line.

Van Houweling said the upgrade is driven by new research needs. For example, astronomers are trying to link radio telescopes around the world, pooling data so they function as one. Van Houweling said the added capacity also would allow U.S. scientists to fully use the world’s largest particle physics collider, being built outside Geneva.

The Internet2 speed record announced April 26 was set in February by a team from the University of Tokyo, the University of Amsterdam, and other institutions. Data went from Tokyo to Seattle to Amsterdam to Chicago and back to Tokyo. The speed breaks the previous high of 7.99 Gbps, set in November.

Internet2 has been in merger talks with another ultra high-speed, next-generation network, National LambdaRail, but such discussions have stalled, Van Houweling said.

More than 200 universities in the United States now belong to the Internet2 consortium. By partnering with member universities, K-12 school systems in several states also have access to the ultra high-speed research and educational applications the network affords.