UK scientists working on low-cost fiber optic network, 40Gbps a reality

By on November 6, 2012, 5:00 PM

A team of scientists from Bangor, Wales are working with existing fiber optic technology in hopes of significantly boosting transfer speeds. They believe they’ve found a breakthrough that could result in broadband speeds up to 2,000 times faster than what’s common today.

In layman’s terms, fiber optic technology works by taking digital data (the ones and zeros) and converting it into light pulses. These are able to travel very fast but as more data gets pumped into the cables and is required to travel further distances, signal degradation (known as dispersion) occurs.

There are several proposed methods to combat the issue, including adding more fiber optic strands to a cable, implementing signal strength boosters and installing extra encoding and decoding lasers at each end. The problem, however, is that all of these steps require a significant financial investment.

What the researchers want to do is keep the cost down by manipulating existing technology, specifically one that is used by wireless networks and those in the digital broadcasting field. It’s called Optical Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplex, or OOFDM for short.

With this, they have been able to take digital data, convert it to physical electrical waves then translate that into pulses of light just like you would with regular fiber optics. The difference is that these electrical waves can be encoded and decoded on the fly, resulting in extreme speed increases.

Thus far they’ve been able to break the 20Gbps speed barrier in real-world testing and are confident in their ability to eventually surpass 40Gbps. For comparison, Google just recently started offering fiber network to select residents of Kansas clocked at 1Gbps.

Bangor researchers say they hope to have a module ready in about two years.

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