Boffins smash data transfer record • The Register

European scientists claim to have achieved data transfer speeds of 1.8 petabits per second using a single laser and optical chip.

For those unsure, 1.8 pbps is a lot. According to a statement from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), more than the total volume of global internet traffic sent every second.

The team owes its breakthrough to the properties of the frequency comb generated on its chip, although it was not designed for this.

This is not the first time a frequency comb has been used to improve the transmission of optical information over a fiber. A group of researchers from the University of California, San Diego set a particularly long data transmission record in 2015 by using the technique to avoid distortion.

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The ridge’s “teeth” are all mounted at fixed frequency intervals from their neighbors and, when struck with infrared laser light, produce a rainbow of colors, DTU said. Each color corresponds to a different frequency, each of which can be isolated, used to imprint data, reassembled, and transmitted over an optical fiber.

Victor Torres-Company, a professor at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden and the project’s research leader, said the properties of the frequency comb generated in a silicon nitride chip she developed happened to make it suitable for use in fiber optic communications, but the “Some of the characteristic parameters were achieved by chance and not by design.”

Torres-Company said his team has since reverse engineered the process to optimize fiber optic applications “with high reproducibility.” There was no mention of what the chip was originally intended for, but the paper’s disclosures mention Torres-Company and another researcher as co-founders of a startup offering silicon nitride prototyping services, so it may have come from a number of other projects.

In this case, the transmission managed to reach 1.84 Pbps over 7.9 km (4.9 miles) of fiber optics, the team claims. A previous internet speed record, set in Japan last year, hit a meager 319 Tbps — less than a third of the speed of the DTU experiment.

In the case of the Japanese project, the group used existing infrastructure and a process called wavelength division multiplexing to transmit multiple data transmission wavelengths over a single fiber optic cable.

The European team also can’t match the transmission distance of the Japanese experiment, which sent its 319 Tbps data stream over 3,001 km (1,864 miles), albeit with repeater stations every 70 km to boost the signal.

DTU professor Leif Katsuo Oxenløwe, who worked on the experiment, said the comb method still has some merit, like the fact that 1.8 Pbps is just a fraction of the system’s potential, according to their model simulations.

“Our calculations show that we can transmit up to 100 Pbps with the single Chalmers University of Technology chip and a single laser,” Oxenlowe said. The DTU solution scales easily, Oxenløwe said, both by creating additional frequencies and by adding additional copies of the comb to be used as parallel data sources.

In addition to the massive scalability, Oxenløwe said the system could also significantly reduce the energy consumption of the internet, as only a single laser is needed instead of “hundreds of thousands of lasers in internet hubs and data centers, all of which eat up electricity and generate heat.”

“We have the opportunity to contribute to an internet that leaves a smaller climate footprint,” Oxenløwe said, but also acknowledged that the team still has work to do before a similar system could be deployed in the real world.

The team is working to integrate components with the optical chip to make the whole system more efficient, but hasn’t specified anything beyond that. We’ve reached out to the team to find out more, specifically when to expect this bandwidth at home, and will update this story when we get feedback. ® Boffins smash data transfer record • The Register

Rick Schindler

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