A team of researchers from Australia’s RMIT, Monash, and Swinburne universities has set a new record for the world’s fastest data transmission through a single chip. At 44.2 Terabits per second, the speeds achieved in their test are the equivalent of downloading 100 Blu-Ray dual-layer discs every second. In Netflix terms, that’d be enough for over 1.76 million simultaneous streams of 4K content.
Interestingly, this test was performed on a 76.6km-long standard fibre optic network, which means adapting this to a commercial platform might not present as much of a challenge as is normally with fresh-out-of-the-lab techniques. (Not fast enough for you? In 2014, researchers from the Eindhoven University of Technology and University of Central Florida managed speeds of 255Tbps, although this was achieved using a custom optical fibre.)
The secret behind this success was the use of a micro-comb, which happens to be the product of the research that won John L. Hall and Theodor W. Hänsch the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2005. But what is a micro-comb? In the words of Dr Bill Corcoran of Monash University, “Optical micro-combs are tiny gadgets that in essence use a single laser, a temperature-controlled chip, and a tiny ring called an optical resonator to send out signals using many different wavelengths of light.” In more layman-friendly language, these would appear to work by producing a ‘rainbow’ of infrared light that allows for different data streams at the same time – the streams all use different frequencies, allowing for simultaneous transmission of data (Physics geeks might also want to read the published paper).
According to Dr Corcoran, the successful test is proof that existing fibre infrastructure will be able to cope with an increase in Internet usage. But when will we see this in the wild? Well, RMIT Distinguished Professor Arnan Mitchell believes that once integrated photonic chips utilizing this technique are ready, it could drive down costs and enable faster data communications over existing networks. “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,” he added.