As the current surveillance scandal has reminded us, our data zips around the world through high-capacity, undersea fiber optic cables. Now Alcatel-Lucent says it has broken the record for the amount of data that can be pushed through such cables: 31 terabits per second over a single fiber that’s 7,200km (4,474 miles) long.
This is a lab test we’re talking about here: it took place at Alcatel-Lucent’s Innovation City campus in Villarceaux near Paris, which you will note is nowhere near the sea, let alone under it. However, 31Tbps represents a ton of capacity – significantly more than the 21.7Tbps that NEC and Verizon managed last year over a land distance of 934 miles, and three times roomier than the fibers you’ll find in today’s most advanced commercial undersea cables.
What’s more, remember that that’s just one fiber and a transoceanic cable may have, say, eight pairs of fibers. Again, this is a lot of capacity. However, it’s also worth noting that Alcatel-Lucent’s tests were based on having a signal amplifier every 100km along the line.
Last month Alcatel-Lucent announced its “Shift Plan”, which involves moving from being a telecoms equipment generalist to a specialist in IP networking and mobile and fixed broadband access. So, while the company’s Bell Labs division has long undertaken the sort of research it’s trumpeting today, this kind of thing is now even more core than it previously was, strategically speaking.
As Philippe Keryer, Alcatel-Lucent’s chief strategy and innovation officer, said in a statement on Tuesday:
“Undersea fiber-optic transmission is integral to the digital economy, delivering vast amounts of video and data between countries, regions and continents. As our customers cope with increasing demand on their networks for data capacity and higher-speeds of transmission, our researchers are intensifying their application with tests like this to develop new technology solutions to transform global data networks.”
The test was based on Bell Labs’s technique for squeezing 200Gbps through a single data channel. It used 155 lasers, each one carrying 200Gbps at a different frequency. This represents an enhancement to the wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) techniques that run at up to 100Gbps in today’s commercially deployed cables.