A small device whose name is micro-comb touches new highs in download speeds, providing adequate data at the same time to millions of people even during the busiest periods. Micro-comb could one day take the place of the existing internet infrastructure service.
The lightweight technology has recently been tested in a field trial and measured amazing data rates up to 44.2 terabits per second, all emitted from a single light source.
The micro-comb chips aren’t exactly new. It was invented around a decade ago. But with rising pressure on our internet system, the technology now offers a way to slim down pressure and speed up the technology behind our internet.
David Moss, Director of the Optical Sciences Centre at Swinburne University says “It is truly exciting to see their capability in ultra-high bandwidth fibre optic telecommunications coming to fruition.“
“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.“
Engineers from Monash University, Swinburne University, and RMIT in Australia claim a remarkable benefit of the chip is its potential to replace the existing infrastructure. It has the ability to fulfil the demands we can expect in the coming years.
The development of Australia’s own copper-based, multi-technology-mix national broadband network (NBN) has come under heavy criticism since the government’s decision in 2013 to not run optical fibre directly to people’s houses.
We all know that this pandemic crisis that’s rapidly increased our data consumption habits, as we try to pinch a number of Zoom meetings and TV show episodes through the copper and optical fibre internet.
There’s a crucial concern that our current systems will struggle in the next few years. Replacing highways of ageing cables to keep up with our needs is expensive and time-demanding.
Meanwhile, there are many other components that can be upgraded to help improve the flow of internet traffic. One of those is the way we currently generate the frequencies of light that carry the bits and bytes down the cables into our computers and smart devices.
Lasers shining at different frequencies can create a multitude of ‘channels’ to transmit information into the tiny refracting tubes. Depending on the light arrangement, we can shine as many as 80 channels into the network for all our data needs.
This micro-comb chip could be set to replace existing methods for creating all of those channels. It can exchange 80 separate lasers for a single crystal waveform generator that can be tuned to shape a rainbow of light waves.
If we take a look at the theory, it looks like an amazing idea. But to know the difference between theory and practical, the researchers connected a preliminary model of the device to more than 75 kilometres of ‘dark’ optic cable run between two Melbourne university campuses.
The team found they could reach the peak limit amount of data for each channel, demonstrating a potential top speed of 44.2 terabits per second from the device. With the ideal conditions with the right system, theoretically, this technology allows you to download 1,000 high definition movies in a second.
The reality might not be quite as bright as downloading all of the high definition movies in a second or streaming Netflix in 8K on without any interrupt, but with other potential improvements to internet technology, even moderate jumps of several terabits per second over small distances will become great improvements in Internet infrastructure.
Monash University, computer systems engineer Bill Corcoran says “And it’s not just Netflix and YouTube, it’s about the broader scale of what we use our communication networks for.“
“This technology 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 kilometres away.”
If all goes well, the day is not too far when data centres use these chips to connect to one another for faster communications.
Maybe in a few years, transmitters become outdated. And we will be able to use a few hundred gigabytes per second on the internet. Not just in Australia, but around the world.
This research was published in Nature Communications.