(CN) — University researchers have developed and recorded the fastest internet data speed in the world from a single optical chip, holding the capacity to download 1,000 high-definition movies in a split second, according to new research revealed Friday.
Details of this study are published in the journal Nature Communications, in which researchers from Monash, Swinburne and RMIT universities in Australia reveal how they successfully tested this breakthrough technology.
The potential of this development promises to fast-track the next 25 years of Australia's telecommunications capacity, and carries the possibility of being rolled out across the world. The authors explain that the new technology can support the high-speed internet connections of 1.8 million households in Melbourne, Australia, as well as billions across the world during peak times.
In the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, the world’s internet infrastructure has experienced increased pressure, heightened by the pandemic isolation policies. After much development, the research team, led by Bill Corcoran of Monash, Arnan Mitchell of RMIT and David Moss of Swinburne was able to successfully achieve a data speed of 44.2 terabits per second from a single light source.
Normally, demonstrations with these kinds of results are only attainable within a laboratory, but the researchers in this study achieved these ultra-fast speeds using existing communications infrastructure that allowed them to efficiently load-test the network.
This was also accomplished with the help of a new device that replaces 80 lasers with a single piece of equipment known as a micro-comb, which is smaller, lighter and more efficient than any existing telecommunications hardware.
“In the 10 years since I co-invented micro-comb chips, they have become an enormously important field of research,” said Moss, director of the Optical Sciences Centre at Swinburne University.
To test their research, the team planted the device and load-tested it using existing infrastructure, similar to that used by the National Broadband Network. This is the first time any type of micro-comb has been used in a field trial and yields the highest amount of data produced from a single optical chip.
"We're currently getting a sneak peek 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, a lecturer in electrical and computer systems engineering at Monash University.
"And it's not just Netflix we're talking about here — it's the broader scale of what we use our communication networks for,” Corcoran elaborated. “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."
In their demonstration to illustrate the impact these optical micro-combs have on optimizing communication systems, the research team installed nearly 48 miles of 'dark' optical fibers, provided by Australia's Academic Research Network, between RMIT's Melbourne City Campus and Monash University's Clayton Campus.
They placed the micro-combs into the fibers, which in turn acted like a rainbow consisting of hundreds of high quality infrared lasers from a single chip. To put this into perspective, each laser has the individual capacity to be used as a separate communications channel.
The results from this experiment showed that they were able to send maximum data down each channel, simulating peak internet usage, across 4 terahertz of bandwidth. Mitchell commented that reaching the optimum data speed of 44.2 terabytes per second showed the potential of existing Australian infrastructure.
"What our research demonstrates is the ability for fibers that we already have in the ground, thanks to the NBN project, to be the backbone of communications networks now and in the future. We've developed something that is scalable to meet future needs,” Corcoran said.
Future applications of this project aim to scale up the current transmitters from hundreds of gigabytes per second towards tens of terabytes per second without increasing size, weight or cost of resources used.
"Long term, we 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," Mitchell said. "Initially, these would be attractive for ultra-high speed communications between data centers. 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."
Moss added: "It is truly exciting to see their capability in ultra-high bandwidth fiber optic telecommunications coming to fruition. This work represents a world record for bandwidth down a single optical fiber 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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