A micro-comb on a coin, for scale. 


Monash University

Researchers in Australia say they’ve set a new world record for recording the fastest internet data speed from a single optical chip. In just one second, the system could download 1,000 high-def movies, which also happens to be about equivalent to grabbing every episode from the Doctor Who canon in HD. 

You don’t have to slip into a Tardis and travel to a far-off corner of time and space to witness this technology. Instead, it came about as a result of everyone staying home thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re currently getting a sneak-peak of how the infrastructure for the internet will hold up in two to three years’ time, due to the unprecedented number of people using the internet for remote work, socializing and streaming. It’s really showing us that we need to be able to scale the capacity of our internet connections,” said Bill Corcoran, an engineering lecturer at Monash University in Melbourne, in a release.

Corcoran led a team of researchers from Monash, Swinburne and RMIT universities in hitting data speeds of 44.2 Terabits per second (Tbps) from just one light source. The results were published Friday in the journal Nature Communications

The key to the breakthrough is called a micro-comb, which is a tiny device that can stand in for 80 lasers. The researchers describe it as “acting like a rainbow made up of hundreds of high quality infrared lasers from a single chip.”

Each stream of light in that tiny rainbow can act as an independent communications channel. 

The micro-comb was tested using existing fiber-optic network infrastructure in Australia. The researchers say the new tech could add needed broadband capacity around the world. 

“And it’s not just Netflix we’re talking about here,” Corcoran explained. “This data can be used for self-driving cars and future transportation and it can help the medicine, education, finance and e-commerce industries.”

But reaching the insane speeds seen in the team’s tests at home would require upgrading other parts of the network infrastructure. Still, the researchers are hopeful that the project could enable an increase from speeds in the hundreds of gigabytes per second to tens of terabytes per second.

“Initially, these would be attractive for ultra-high speed communications between data centers,” said RMIT professor Arnan Mitchell. “However, we could imagine this technology becoming sufficiently low cost and compact that it could be deployed for commercial use by the general public in cities across the world.”  

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