New device could soon usher in the 1 Tbps Ethernet era

We are seeing significant gains in the performance of many components in computers today. CPUs get faster with each new generation of the hardware. RAM gets faster, hard drives get faster, and SSDs get faster as well. What is also needed are performance improvements in the networks computers send and receive data across.

A new breakthrough is now promising some impressive gains in the speed at which we can read optical data. Today phone calls and cable TV shows are sent across buried cables using sliced light. The slicing of these signals is typically done via an electro-optic modulator. This is the device allowing the laser beam to be turned on and off at high speeds, enabling the ones and zeros of binary code to be transmitted.

One of the big challenges, and bottlenecks in today's system, is the reading of that data on the receiving end. A new record has been set in reading this type of digital data with an error-free component that was able to read data at 640 Gbits/sec.

The feat was engineered and performed by a group of researchers from Denmark and Australia and the results of the breakthrough were published in the journal Optics Express. According to the researchers, conventional readers in use today require a photo-detector to operate. These detectors are capable of operating at 40 Gbps, a mere fraction the new sensor is capable at operating at.

Multiplexing is often used to speed up data transmission with each signal being transmitted down an optical fiber at the same time. At the receiving end of these streams, the data has to be de-multiplexed to get usable data out of each of the streams sent.

The basis of the new technology comes from an experiment performed in Japan in 1998 where researchers were able to send data at 640 Gbps and read the data back, but the reading apparatus required special long lengths of cable made from a special fiber. The system was also very unstable.

The new de-multiplexing device being demonstrated by the research team at the Technical University of Denmark can handle the extremely high data rate in a stable manner. The new system also requires a waveguide of only 5 cm long, compared to the 50 meters of special cabling needed in the Japanese experiment.

The 5cm long waveguide was developed by the Centre for Ultrahigh Bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems or CUDOS in Australia. The compact size of the new device also makes it easy to integrate into other components to design ultra-fast functional chips. The researchers say that the process could also allow for even higher data transmission rates running into the trillion bits per second range.

The team of researchers says that in the near future they hope to enable a 1 Tbps Ethernet network. Compared to some of the fastest 1 Gbps Ethernet networks in us today that is a huge improvement in data transmission speed. The compact design of the required components should also mean that when they come to be, 1 Tbps networking components could be the same basic size as the network components in use today around the world.

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