How Fast Can Optical Networks Go? How About 170 Gbps?

Four research universities say they have reached networking speeds of 170 gigabits per second (Gbps) using a hybrid type of optical semiconductor. The team used a special manufacturing process to create a waveguide that mixes four 42.7 Gbps signals, creating a multiplexed 170.8 Gbps signal. If we want to keep clogging our tubes with HD video and telepresence and achieve futuristic goals such as remote surgery, then we’re going to need the wider pipes this research could offer.

The resulting waveguide is a breakthrough in creating optical networks that allow optical signals to be processed directly — without changing them back to electrons. That cuts costs if the waveguide can be manufactured using a standard chipmaking material such as silicon, which it is with the hybrid technology used for this research. The hybrid chips are made using a typical CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) manufacturing process plus a deposition process that covers the waveguide with organic molecules. The combination results in chips that can offer all-optical processing that’s more than 3 times faster than previous speeds of 40 Gbps. This is highly geeky stuff, but when one considers that bandwidth — not processors — will be the platform from which future innovations will spring, it’s research we need.

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