Blazing bits transmitted 4.5 million times faster than broadband

An international research team has sent an astounding amount of data at a nearly incomprehensible speed. It’s the fastest data transmission ever using a single optical fiber and shows just how speedy the process can get using current materials.

In the UK, according to a report by regulatory group Ofcom published in September 2023, the average broadband speed in the country is about 70 megabits per second (Mb/s). While that’s plenty of pipeline to watch tiny house tours, see robots do back flips, and check out the latest AI-generated videos, it’s not really significant in the world of serious data transmission.

In that arena, world records are set at speeds of 319 Terabits per second (TB/s) and then broken a year later at one petabit per second (a petabit is one million gigabits). Of course that record then again gets trounced by another one that clocks an almost scary 22.9 petabits per second and so on and so on.

But for these super-speedy data transmission feats, engineers have used multiple fiber optic strands. Now, researchers at Aston University in the UK, in collaboration with researchers from Nokia Bell Labs in the US and the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) in Japan, have managed to squeeze an impressive 301 TB/s through a single standard fiber optic cable.

They achieved this feat by using additional wavelength bands which exist in fiber optic cables but are currently not used for transmission, setting a world record for data sent this way. Currently, fiber optic transmissions rely on the C- and L-bands. But the research team figured out a way to send stable data through the co-existing E- and S-bands for a major speed boost.

“Such bands traditionally haven’t been required because the C- and L-bands could deliver the required capacity to meet consumer needs,” said researcher Ian Phillips. “Over the last few years, Aston University has been developing optical amplifiers that operate in the E-band, which sits adjacent to the C-band in the electromagnetic spectrum but is about three times wider. Before the development of our device, no one had been able to emulate the E-band channels in a controlled way properly.”

To stabilize the transmission through these additional bands, the team developed new types of optical amplifiers and optical gain equalizers, pieces of equipment that boost and adjust the beams of data-carrying light streams that travel through fiber optic cables. Because their technique uses already available – but currently unused – capacity in the cables, the researchers feel the solution could be an affordable and ecologically friendly way to open up more lanes on the information superhighway.

“Growing system capacity by using more of the available spectrum – not just the conventional C-band but also other bands such as the L, S, and now E-bands can help to keep the cost of providing this bandwidth down,” said researcher Wladek Forysiak from Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies. “It is also a ‘greener solution’ than deploying more, newer fibers and cables since it makes greater use of the existing deployed fiber network, increasing its capacity to carry data and prolonging its useful life and commercial value.”

The work has been detailed in a paper published in Optics Letters, and presented at the European Conference on Optical Communication (ECOC).

Source: Aston University

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