An international team of scientists has set a new data record, by transferring 1.8 petabits in a single second — the equivalent to twice the world’s global internet traffic for that period — using a cutting-edge optical chip paired with a single infrared laser.
Our modern-day civilization runs on torrents of data that are encoded into pulses of light from the binary computer language of ones and zeroes, and — where possible — transmitted around the world through a global network of fiber-optic cables.
In a new study published in the journal Nature Photonics, a team of researchers from the Technical University of Denmark has broken the record for the largest amount of data transferred in a single second. The researchers made use of a custom optical computer chip that was capable of using a single infrared laser to create hundreds of light frequencies, each of which can be imprinted with data.
These light frequencies are separated by a fixed, identical distance, like the teeth of a comb. This is the reason that this type of device is known as a frequency comb.
The researchers sent the data encoded on the light down a 7.9 km-long optical fiber and measured the amount of data transferred. It was discovered that the chip with its single infrared laser was able to transmit data at an astonishing rate of 1.84 petabits per second.
For context, 1 petabit is the equivalent of 1 million gigabits. According to a press release from the Technical University of Denmark, the 1.8 petabit per second transfer rate achieved by the team is the equivalent of sending the entire internet traffic usually sent in that period globally, *twice*.
Using the state of the art commercial chip technology in use today, the researchers estimate that it would take 1,000 lasers working in concert to transfer the same amount of data in the one second time frame, rather than the single laser used by the team. Furthermore, the newly produced chip wasn’t even optimized for the purposes of the study.
“In fact, some of the characteristic parameters were achieved by coincidence and not by design,” comments professor Victor Torres Company from the Chalmers University of Technology, head of the research group that created the new chip. “However, with efforts in my team, we are now capable to reverse engineer the process and achieve with high reproducibility microcombs for target applications in telecommunications.”
The new chip could also make the infrastructure of the internet more energy efficient.
“In other words, our solution provides a potential for replacing hundreds of thousands of the lasers located at Internet hubs and data centers, all of which guzzle power and generate heat,” explains Professor Leif Katsuo Oxenløwe from the Technical University of Denmark. “We have an opportunity to contribute to achieving an Internet that leaves a smaller climate footprint.”
A theoretical study was also conducted by the team, which suggested that a single chip of the new design could be scaled up to transmit as much as 100 petabits of data per second.
Further development of the technology will be needed before the chip can be used in a practical way. However, the scientists behind the study hope that their research will significantly influence how future communications systems are designed in the coming decades, in which time data use is expected to rise at a dramatic rate.
Anthony Wood is a freelance science writer for
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