By mirroring beam in line, noise is cancelled

It is an elegant and simple solution, but one that is relatively new to the world of fiber optic signaling -- beam mirroring.  The approach, already frequently used in the noise-cancelling headphones, is being touted as a promising new route to improving fiber optic routing in a new study by researchers at telecommunications company Alcatel-Lucent SA's (EPA:ALU) Bell Labs unit.

The idea involves making "twins" -- dual beams of light in a fiber that mirror each other.  Each peak in one beam is a trough in its twin.  Together they bounce along the line, much as a single beam would.

One major limiting factor in fiber optics is noise.  In order to send signals farther, beams are transmitted at higher power.  But the higher the power, the more beams tend to interact with the material in the fiber's walls, adding noise.  Beams have a limiting maximum distance they can travel and maintain fidelity -- after that they need to be received and rerouted, hopping along the next link.

By adopting the "twin" approach, light can travel four times farther that a single beam could.  In their study, the Bell Labs stream piped data at 400 Gigabits per second (Gbps) -- four times faster than the best commercially available speeds, down 12,800 kilometers (7953 miles) of fiber.  That's a longer line than the longest transoceanic link.

While note the first study to suggest the phase conjugate approach, Bell Labs claims its work offers the most straightforward implementation and is proven to travel farther without rerouting.  That means the need to reroute or boost signals during long transoceanic links may no longer be needed.

Fiber optic cable
[Image Source: Guardian UK]

Lead author Xiang Liu of Bell Laboratories in New Jersey comments in an interview with BBC News:

Sometimes you may send data from London to New York, sometimes you may send it from London to Paris. The links are changing and you cannot keep sending people to the middle of the link.

At the receiver, if you superimpose the two waves, then all the distortions will magically cancel each other out, so you obtain the original signal back.  This concept, looking back, is quite easy to understand, but surprisingly, nobody did this before.

Nowadays everybody is consuming more and more bandwidth - demanding more and more communication.  We need to solve some of the fundamental problems to sustain the capacity growth.

The approach may allow faster data transfer speeds too.  As it reduces signal noise, it allows for less repetition of information in a given beam.

The study on the work was published in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Nature Photonics.

Alcatel-Lucent in currently in the midst of constructing a 100 Gbps undersea fiber link between Malaysia, India, and the Middle East.

Sources: Nature Photonics, BBC News

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