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Closing the gap to improve the capacity of existing fiber optic networks


April 7, 2013

Researchers claim to have increased the data capacity of optical networks to the point that all of the world’s internet traffic could be transmitted via a single fiber (Photo: Shutterstock)

Researchers claim to have increased the data capacity of optical networks to the point that all of the world’s internet traffic could be transmitted via a single fiber (Photo: Shutterstock)

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A team of researchers working through Australia’s Centre for Ultrahigh Bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS) has developed data encoding technology that increases the efficiency of existing fiber optic cable networks. The researchers claim their invention increases the data capacity of optical networks to the point that all of the world’s internet traffic could be transmitted via a single fiber.

Compatible with existing networks, the data encoding technology involves making more efficient use of available data channels. Where existing networks transmit data with gaps between the channels, the new approach packs the data channels closer together, thereby allowing more lanes on the same super-highway.

To demonstrate the system, the researchers re-programmed a LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon) Wavelength Selective Switch (WSS) to make more efficient use of available data channels. A WWS is a network component that uses different wavelengths of laser light to combine (or multiplex) multiple digital data streams onto a single optical fiber.

The research team, which included Professor Arthur Lowery and Dr Liang Du of the Monash Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering and Jochen Schroeder, Joel Carpenter and Ben Eggleton from the University of Sydney, managed to transmit a signal of 10 terabits per second (Tb/s) more than 850 km (528 miles) using the new technology.

That’s still well short of the 26 Tb/s data transmission speeds achieved by scientists at Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), but is over a far greater distance than the 50 km (31 miles) that team achieved.

Professor Lowry said that the switch could be used to squeeze signals into the gaps in data traffic that flows around large optical-ring networks between cities. "Importantly, new traffic can be squeezed into the fiber at any location and added to any ‘lane’ of the fiber freeway even between existing lanes,” he said. "Rather than laying hundreds of new parallel optical fibers to boost network capacity, we can make more efficient use of the existing network by tweaking the way data is transmitted over long distances."

“Our approach is so flexible, network operators could adjust capacity to respond to increased demand, for example from people following big sport events like the Olympics," added Dr Schröder.

The team believes the technology would allow existing infrastructure to cope with the rising demand for internet, which is expected to increase 1,000 fold over the coming decade, with minimal investment.

"Because we are have made use of equipment that is already on the market, this technology could be translated to the consumer quite quickly,” said Dr Du.

The team’s findings were presented last month at the Optical Fiber Communication Conference in California. It was presented as a postdeadline paper, which are intended to give attendees the opportunity to hear breakthrough results in rapidly advancing areas.

Source: CUDOS

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

I remember reading about a promising new technology years ago that used different colours to vastly increase the data transmitted through fibre optic cables. Haven't heard anything since...

Jason Catterall

The 850 km they reached is with amplification which puts it similar to what other companies are doing. Infinera sells a system (DTN-X) that will do 5 Tb/s. 10 Tb/s over distance is no small accomplishment but there is a difference between a successful lab test and a shipped product.

There is also more than 10 Tb/s of traffic on the Internet. The last numbers I saw were from Cisco estimating 167 Tb/s but that number I am sure moves quickly and multiple networks have to participate in moving the traffic. Youtube and Netflix probably each move over 10 Tb/s.

Because fiber cuts are common some companies build fail over circuits along opposite sizes of a ring so that reduce their total capacity (to about half) so there are companies with enough traffic to make a dent in this technology.

If 4k video gets popular it would crush even this.


This isn't very impressive in terms of throughput achievement:


Daniel Rodgers-Pryor

While it's true that the Corning / NEC group achieved vastly higher throughput, their solution would require replacing all existing fibers in order to be useful, it would appear; the Texas group's approach utilizes the existing infrastructure. That has to be a market advantage that trumps the throughput raw number.


OOOoops - Australian group, not Texas.


@Jason Catterall

Do you mean DWDM?


Owen Stickley

When I went to the 1964 New York Worlds Fair they had an exhibit in which data was transmitted data using multiple wavelengths (colors) of light. So, these guys think they've come up with something new?

Roger Garrett
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