Although high-speed wireless technologies like WiFi 6E and 5G dominate the news headlines, analog and optical cables are still the backbone of the internet, and for good reason. Researchers in Japan have just established a new record for optical fiber data transmission with a technique that compatible with existing cable infrastructurewhich means that a real-world implementation is entirely possible, and not just limited to a lab environment.
Researchers from National Institute of Information and Communication Technology of Japan (NICT) successfully sent data over a custom multi-core fiber optic cable at a speed of 1.02 petabits per second over a distance of 51.7 km. This equates to sending 127,500 GB of data every second, which the researchers say is also enough capacity for over “10 million 8K broadcast channels per second.” As The New Atlas emphasizes, it’s also 100,000 times faster than the promised next generation of high-speed gigabit connections delivering internet to home users.
In December 2020, NICTs effectively achieved the first successful data transmission at 1 petabit per second over standard diameter fiber optic cable, and while a speed improvement to 1.02 petabits per second just a year and a half later is certainly an impressive achievement, what makes this time so exciting, it is the technology used to break the record.
In 2020, ICT researchers sent the data over a single-core fiber optic cable, but used a multimode technique where multiple signals were mixed during transmission. A total of 15 “modes” were sent together over the fiber, and although the performance in terms of speed was impressive, the multimode technique requires special hardware to decrypt the signals and extract the usable data, necessitating development and deployment of new integrated circuits throughout a network. network and costly upgrades, making it a tougher sell to ISPs despite massive bandwidth gains.
This time around, the researchers removed the mixed-signal multimode approach and instead reduced the transmission to just four “modes”, each sending one of four cores inside a custom fiber optic cable with a standard diameter. Imagine a plastic straw with four finer straws stuffed inside each bearing a different flavor of soda: a gross simplification of what the researchers created. But the multi-core cable wasn’t the only innovation that made this record-breaking data transfer possible, it also relied on highly technical optical amplification systems and signal modulation approaches, as described by researchers from the ICT:
In this experiment, by expanding the Raman amplification bandwidth to the entire S-band and using custom thulium-doped fiber amplifiers (TDFAs) for erbium-doped fiber amplifiers (EDFAs) in S-band and extended L-band, we were able to utilize a record-breaking optical spectrum of 20 THz with a total of 801 wavelength channels spaced 25 GHz apart, each with 256 dual-polarization QAM modulation for high spectral density in all bands of wave length.
The most important part is that this second breakthrough relies on hardware and techniques that are completely compatible with conventional transceiver hardware that is already in place across the country. New fiber optic cabling will need to be installed, but since the researchers limited the size of their multi-core cable to standard dimensions, it would be completely compatible with existing infrastructure, greatly reducing upgrade costs. As 5G becomes more widespread, and with 6G just around the corner, the country’s demand for data is going to continue to increase by leaps and bounds, but an innovation like this promises to give internet providers a sizeable head start for at least a few years.
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