We’ve seen the Internet groan (metaphorically, of course) under the weight of a sudden increase in users and usage in the past months. The global situation proved how ill-prepared our technologies are to support such a scenario, especially if and when it actually becomes the “new normal”. Various companies like SpaceX and Amazon are looking to the stars to augment our Internet capabilities but a cross-university team of Australian researchers was able to reach a whopping 44 Tbps data speed with existing optic fiber networks and a new optical chip.
To put that speed into context, the researchers from RMIT, Monash, and Swinburne universities explained that it would be enough to download 1,000 HD movies in less than a second. While the benefits for media and game streaming services are almost too obvious, the real achievement here is that it was done with an already existing optic fiber line.
The real hero, however, is the new optical chip that was the single light source for that high-speed data transfer. A photonic chip the size of a fingernail was placed in the researcher’s optical micro-comb device to produce a rainbow of infrared light. Unlike the usual pulses of light used on traditional optical fiber, this allowed data to use different frequencies of light simultaneously, effectively increasing the bandwidth of a single fiber.
While the achievement in itself is already a record-breaker, the implications of this new technology are even more significant in light of current circumstances. The need for Internet access and even high-speed Internet access has grown exponentially in the past months but the speed of innovation in new networking technologies and materials is not as fast. The fact that this optical chip source can be used with existing optic fiber networks can help scale Internet bandwidth without having to overhaul the Internet infrastructure.
Of course, that will still depend on how feasible it will be to mass-produce these chips. The researchers envision that costs would be low enough that it could be deployed for the general public and not just limited to the exclusive domain of data-hungry data centers.