Oct 162010
Fibre optic strands
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Technology may stretch the capacity of the fibre optic cables used to carry data sooner than has long been thought, according to a report in Science.

The capacity limit has until recently been in the preparation of the light signals that pass through the cables.

But the report reviews recent laboratory results showing data rates that are more than half the ultimate limit of fibre optic cables.

It calls for urgent research to develop higher-bandwidth cables.

A number of innovations have in the past massively increased the data capacity of optical fibres.

The first change improved the transmission of the fibres, so that optical signals did not simply get absorbed as they passed through.

This resulted in fibres with data rates hundreds of times higher and theoretical capacities thousands of times higher than that.

Those improved fibres have become standard and now lie underground and undersea all over the globe; the limitation since then has been in the lasers and electronics that prepare and then translate the optical signals on either side of these “light pipes”.

Now, David Richardson of the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre says in the Science report that the best data rates measured in laboratory settings challenge the perceived notion that fibres are limitless conduits for data.

“The thought that the current fibre technology has infinite capacity is not true – we are beginning to hit the fundamental limits of the current technology,” he told BBC News.

“We need to be looking at the next big breakthrough to allow us to continue to scale as we have traditionally done.”

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