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

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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.

9 Responses to “How Fast Can Optical Networks Go? How About 170 Gbps?”

  1. Well they going to need mo than that when holographics comes out real soon. They are going to be tossing tachyons down a fiber really fast. With unheard of bandwidths.
    Don’t forget in 1968 Startrek had the handheld communicator. Now we have the cell freaking phone. And netbooks.
    Lots of peeps may say no way, but I say real soon.

    • Two Words: Cisco Onstage :)

      Holograph + Audio. Pretty cool. 14,000 miles away, real time…

      This optical technology could, with more research and improvements improve the speeds in the ISP core, which in turn gets passed down to the consumer and business.

      I would say in a few years we will see things like Telepresence and Onstage in the home.

      Considering we are already seeing companies save millions of dollars not only in travel costs, but think about the amount of money it costs a company to fly an executive across the world for a few days (in lost productivity; how much are they worth per hour…) just to have one or two meetings.

      With technologies like these this can happen ad-hoc, and from their office or home.

      I personally can’t wait to see what will be twenty years from now (if the world hasn’t blown itself up yet).

  2. Purely optical processing pathways are an important area of development, in part because you can (relatively) easily do things like wave mux-ing to scale up the bandwidth. Good stuff and interesting to see progress being made.

    I would think that remote surgery is more limited by latency than bandwidth.

    • Stacey Higginbotham

      Andrew, I was mainly thinking of the HD images so people could see what exactly they were snipping, but latency would also be a huge factor.