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Pointy pulses improve optical fiber throughput by a factor of 10


December 5, 2013

A breakthrough by EPFL researchers could improve the data throughput of worldwide optical fiber networks (Photo: Shutterstock)

A breakthrough by EPFL researchers could improve the data throughput of worldwide optical fiber networks (Photo: Shutterstock)

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As the volume of data carried around the world via optical fibers continues to increase, researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) have found a way to increase data throughput capacity by ten times. Because it is based on changing the shape of light pulses to reduce the space between, the breakthrough would work on existing optical fiber infrastructure.

"Since it appeared in the 1970s, the data capacity of fiber optics has increased by a factor of ten every four years, driven by a constant stream of new technologies," says Camille Brès, of the EPFL's Photonics Systems Laboratory (PHOSL). "But for the last few years we've hit a sort of ceiling, and scientists all over the world are trying to break through."

While others have attempted to solve the problem by altering the properties of the fibers themselves, Brès and fellow EPFL scientist Luc Thévenaz claim to have broken through the current throughput ceiling by focusing on the pulses of light that travel through them.

Data is transmitted through optical fibers as a series of light pulses that form codes. Simply put, a transmitter at one end sends an "on" pulse to signify a 1, and an "off" pulse to signify a 0, with the pulses decoded at the receiving end of the fiber. The limiting factor has been that there needs to be some space between the pulses so they don't interfere with each other, ensuring the data can be reliably decoded at the receiver.

After noticing that the changes in the shape of the pulses could limit the interference, Brès and Thévenaz were able to produce long-sought-after "Nyquist sinc pulses" that fit together more closely.

"These pulses have a shape that's more pointed, making it possible to fit them together, a little bit like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle lock together," says Brès. "There is of course some interference, but not at the locations where we actually read the data."

The researchers were able to generate a pulse that is more than 99 percent perfect using a simple laser and modulator, but believe the technology could fit on a simple chip. This, coupled with the fact that existing optical fiber networks wouldn't need to be replaced, should make it attractive to many in the telecommunications industry.

Source: EPFL

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

Translation: Fiber optic data just got 10 times cheaper.

Please, [insert major ISP], tell me again why fiber is too expensive for you to roll out. Tell me again why the concept of investing profits in your service has become completely alien to you. Tell me again why small, local ISPs who are laying out and using the fiber you refuse to are 'predatory'.

Joel Detrow

It didn't get ten times cheaper. It got 10 times more profitable for the carrier's. Maybe more. Of course they will increase cost. Where did you go to business school?

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