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Optical amplifier could quadruple the range of fiber optic signals


June 23, 2011

A newly-developed optical amplifier is said to allow fiber optic signals to travel four times farther, with little in the way of added noise (Photo: Raj)

A newly-developed optical amplifier is said to allow fiber optic signals to travel four times farther, with little in the way of added noise (Photo: Raj)

As the amount of information being electronically shuttled around the planet continues to grow, so does the need for effective means of relaying it. The use of optical fibers has definitely helped in that regard, although thanks to a recent breakthrough at Sweden's Chalmers University of Technology, optical fiber signals may soon be able to travel four times farther than they are presently able to. Researchers there have created an optical amplifier, capable of amplifying light while maintaining a relatively noise-free signal.

There is currently not a lot in the way of details available as to how the amplifier works, although it is said to take advantage of "the fact that the refractive index of glass is not constant, but dependent on light intensity in the fiber." The abstract for a paper on the research goes on to state that the setup consists of "a phase-insensitive parametric copier followed by a phase-sensitive amplifier."

Whatever the case, it is said to dramatically boost the strength of optical fiber signals, potentially allowing a signal that could previously travel about 1,000 kilometers to now travel 4,000. Unlike previous erbium-doped fiber amplifiers, which created a signal with at least 3 decibels-worth of accompanying noise, the new amplifier only creates around 1 dB, which could theoretically be reduced to zero.

"This is the ultimate optical amplifier," said Chalmers' Prof. Peter Andrekson. "It enables connecting cities, countries and continents more efficiently by placing the amplification hubs at much greater intervals. The signal can also be modulated more effectively ... The entire optical telecom industry is our market. But the technology is generic, and scalable to other wavelengths like visible or infrared light, which makes it attractive in areas such as measurements, spectroscopy, laser radar technology and any applications where detection of very weak levels of light is essential."

The paper, "Towards ultrasensitive optical links enabled by low-noise phase-sensitive amplifiers," was recently published in the journal Nature Photonics.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Ahh the incremental advances, make incremental improvements, make incremental improvements....

I wonder what will happen when all the discoveries that can be made, are made, and that all the improvements that can be improved are improved.

Bull doze it all and start again with nothing?

Mr Stiffy

Mr Stiffy: Since the universe is infinite and we are finite that will never happen. Our existence could end with one big gamma burst, among many other natural events. Meanwhile, we keep on keeping on because science is fun and gives us longevity.

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