The technique, developed by mathematicians at US company ZeoSync, should allow a 150Mbyte file to be downloaded on a 56kbps modem in 3.6 minutes, compared to the current six hours, if it lives up to the company's claims. PC hard drive capacity could then be measured in terabytes rather than megabytes.
Peter St George, chairman and chief executive of ZeoSync, said, "We are at an early stage in development but we believe we have turned a corner in scientific understanding of compression principles. What we will see is transmission of data over copper wire that will exceed an effective rate of 100 times the speed of light."
David Hill, research director of analyst firm the Aberdeen Group, said, "If ZeoSync can demonstrate this, the business world should stand up and shout hosanna.
"Before we get too excited, ZeoSync has to clearly communicate the theoretical basis of its technology. If that is done, the next step is to demonstrate that the technology really works. The test files need not be huge, but the results have to be verifiable. My best guess is that this can be done within the next year."
In real terms, a 40Gbyte drive would store 4Tbytes, using ZeoSync's data compression method. Where broadband technology ADSL is available, a 150Mbyte file could be downloaded in about 21.6 seconds, which could radically increase the number of applications that are viable over the Internet.
The technology could also help to avoid the problems created by the UK's flagging broadband roll out. The "last mile" problem, where copper cabling takes over the last link from the telephone exchange's fibre optic backbone to the consumer, would be eliminated and satellite and other wireless communications would support high-bandwidth applications, such as real-time, high-definition video.
Current compression ratios vary between 2:1 and 10:1. Some parts of a file - singularities - cannot be compressed, this limits the minimum file size. ZeoSync said it can mathematically compress these singularities to give greater compression without any loss of data.
St George said this gives ratios at least 10 times greater and further passes increase this to reach values of several hundreds to one.