New Photonics Chip Breaks All Transmission Speed Tests

The speed record for data transmission using only one light source and an optical chip has been shattered. 1.84 petabits per second (Pbit/s), or nearly twice the volume of all internet traffic per second, was the blazing rate at which engineers transported data. The team published their findings in the journal Nature Photonics.

It's difficult to emphasize how quickly 1.84 Pbit/s actually is. If you're lucky, you might get a 1-gigabit or 10-gigabit connection at home, but 1 petabit is equal to one million gigabits. Your average home internet connection receives a few hundred megabits per second. The new chip is 20 times quicker than the forthcoming ESnet6 update to the scientific network used by organizations like NASA.

The fact that this new speed record was achieved with only one light source and one optical device is even more amazing. Infrared laser light is split into hundreds of various frequencies, or colors, by a device known as a frequency comb. Data can then be encoded into the light by modulating the amplitude, phase and polarization of each of these frequencies, before recombining them into one beam and transmitting it through optical fiber.

The Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and Chalmers University of Technology researchers used the system in experiments to transport data at 1.84 Pbit/s, encoded in 223 wavelength channels, down an optical fiber with 37 distinct cores that was just under 5 miles long. This system could manage the whole bandwidth of the internet, which is predicted to be just around 1 Pbit/s, at once and still have capacity for expansion.

Historically, the first big test was in mid-2020 when a similar photonic chip managed a transmission of 44 terabits per sec (Tbit/s). That record was broken this past May at a speed of 1.02 Pbit/s.

According to the team behind the new microprocessor, though, smashing records is far from over. Using a computer model, the researchers predict the device will eventually be able to transmit data at eye-watering speeds of up to 100 Pbit/s.

“The reason for this is that our solution is scalable—both in terms of creating many frequencies and in terms of splitting the frequency comb into many spatial copies and then optically amplifying them, and using them as parallel sources with which we can transmit data,” said Professor Leif Katsuo Oxenløwe, lead author of the study. “Although the comb copies must be amplified, we do not lose the qualities of the comb, which we utilize for spectrally efficient data transmission.”

Subscribe to Technology This Week