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Optical Chip Can Download 1000 High-definition Movies in a Split Second

Optical Chip Can Download 1000 High-definition Movies in a Split Second
A device that replaces 80 lasers with one piece of equipment is smaller and lighter than existing telecommunications hardware.
Technology Briefing


What new technologies will dramatically transform your world? We’ll present an exclusive preview of the stunning breakthroughs emerging from the world’s leading research labs. Australian researchers just successfully tested the world’s fastest Internet communications speed. It used a single optical chip capable of downloading 1000 high-definition movies in a split second.

The recent surge of demand hitting the world’s internet infrastructure, due to the isolation policies related to COVID-19 highlights the urgency of upgrading the existing system. Consistent with addressing this need for quantum improvements the results published in the journal Nature Communications demonstrated a data speed of 44.2 Terabits per second (Tbps) from a single light source. To understand how big a leap this represents, consider that one such device has the capacity to support the high-speed internet connections of all 1.8 million households in Melbourne, Australia, at the same time. And importantly, the researchers achieved these speeds using existing communications infrastructure where they were able to efficiently load-test the network.

They used a new device that replaces 80 lasers with one single piece of equipment known as a micro-comb, which is smaller and lighter than existing telecommunications hardware. It was planted into and load-tested using existing infrastructure, which mirrors that used by the NBN.

It is the first time micro-comb technology has been used in a field trial and it delivered the highest data speed ever produced from a single optical chip. This test provides a sneak-peak of how the infrastructure for the internet will evolve in two to three years’ time, due to the unprecedented number of people using the internet for remote work, socializing and streaming. It really shows us that we can scale the capacity of our internet connections.

Importantly, this research demonstrates the ability of the fibers that we already have in the ground, thanks to being the backbone of communications networks now and in the future. And that we’ve already developed something that is scalable to meet future needs.

Notably, it’s not just Netflix we’re talking about here — it’s the broader scale of what we use our communication networks for. This data can be used for self-driving cars and future transportation and it can help the medicine, education, finance, and e-commerce industries, as well as enable us to read with our grandchildren from miles away.

To illustrate the impact optical micro-combs have in optimizing communication systems, researchers installed 76.6 km of ‘dark’ optical fibers. Within these fibers, the researchers placed micro-comb technology. It acts like a rainbow made up of hundreds of high-quality infrared laser beams from a single chip. Each ‘laser beam’ has the capacity to be used as a separate communications channel.

Researchers were able to send maximum data down each channel, simulating peak internet usage, summing to 4THz of bandwidth. Reaching the optimum data speed of 44.2 Tbps showed the potential of existing infrastructure. The future ambition of the project is to scale up the current transmitters from hundreds of gigabytes per second towards tens of terabytes per second without increasing size, weight, or cost.

The researchers hope to create integrated photonic chips that could enable this sort of data rate to be achieved across existing optical fiber links with minimal cost. Initially, this would be attractive for ultra-high-speed communications between data centers. However, this technology should become sufficiently low cost and compact that it could be deployed for commercial use by the general public in cities around the world.


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