Researchers record world’s fastest internet speed from a single optical chip

by | May 26, 2020

As the way in which we work, socialize, and live becomes ever-more digital, enabling faster internet speeds and bandwidth capacity while using existing infrastructures promises a new dawn of the digital age.

With COVID-19 comes the true dawn of the digital age. The idea is interesting as isolation policies remain in place for many countries and the world still grapples with the current pandemic; the way we live, socialize, and work has changed forever. And with internet usage growing 25% each year and now, with work-from-home becoming the new normal for white-collar workers, supporting a growing need for more bandwidth has been driving innovation. The key is keeping up with the massive amounts of data using the infrastructure already in place.

In a recent study published in Nature Communications, a team of Australian researchers have recorded the world’s fastest internet speed from a single optical chip. They were able were able to achieve a data speed of 44.2 Terabits per second (Tbps) from a single light source, downloading 1000 high definition movies in a split second.

According to the team, their technology has the capacity to support high-speed internet connection for 1.8 million households in Melbourne, and has the potential to fast-track the next 25 years of Australia’s telecommunications capacity. The team, led by Dr. Bill Corcoran of Monash University, Professor Arnan Mitchell from RMIT, and Professor David Moss of Swinburne University, are optimistic that their innovation could be rolled out to support billions of internet users around the world.

“We’re currently getting a sneak-peak of how the infrastructure for the internet will hold up in two to three years’ time, due to the unprecedented number of people using the internet for remote work, socializing, and streaming. It’s really showing us that we need to be able to scale the capacity of our internet connections,” said Corcoran in a press release.

“And 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 kilometers away.”

While this is all well and good when confined to the lab, the team actually demonstrated the capabilities of their lightening fast internet in the real world using existing communications infrastructure to test the network.

The new technology relies on a small piece of hardware called a micro-comb, which is a chip the size of a fingernail and is made up of hundreds of high-quality infrared lasers, each of which acts as a separate channel. The device was incorporated into a 77 km fibre optic network that was set up between RMIT’s Melbourne City Campus and Monash University’s Clayton Campus. The researchers were able to send maximum data down each channel, simulating peak internet usage, across 4 THz of bandwidth.

“What our research demonstrates is the ability for fibers that we already have in the ground, thanks to the [Australian National Broadcast Network] project, to be the backbone of communications networks now and in the future, ” said Corcoran. “We’ve developed something that is scalable to meet future needs.

The future ambition of the project is to scale up the current transmitters from hundreds of gigabytes per second toward tens of terabytes per second without increasing size, weight or cost.

“Long-term, we hope to create integrated photonic chips that could enable this sort of data rate to be achieved across existing optical fibre links with minimal cost,” Mitchell added. “Initially, these would be attractive for ultra-high speed communications between data centres. However, we could imagine this technology becoming sufficiently low cost and compact that it could be deployed for commercial use by the general public in cities across the world.”

“It is truly exciting to see their capability in ultra-high bandwidth fibre optic telecommunications coming to fruition,” said Moss. “This work represents a world-record for bandwidth down a single optical fibre from a single chip source, and represents an enormous breakthrough for part of the network which does the heaviest lifting. Micro-combs offer enormous promise for us to meet the world’s insatiable demand for bandwidth.”

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