Equipment used to read optical pulses sent down fibre could be reduced from bulky, power-hungry devices to a single chip thanks to research led by Australian physicist and University of Sydney Associate Professor David Moss.
In its simplest form, sending information from one side of the world to the other via fibre involves converting it into light pulses, sending it down an optical fibre and then converting that pulse back into understandable information. Moss said that in the past three to four years as research methods have been developed, modern communication systems have begun to use the phase of light waves to encode this information over fibre.
However, he said that the methods for measuring and monitoring the signals have lagged behind in terms of research and that the equipment needed to accurately measure the intensity and phase of optical pulses, to extract information, has been large and bulky, often consuming one or more spaces in a server rack.
To address the issue, Moss, in collaboration with researchers from the US and Canada, has developed a chip that can provide the same level of accuracy, using technology called Spectral Phase Interferometry for Direct Electric-Field Reconstruction, or SPIDER.
The method of manufacturing the SPIDER chips is similar to the traditional method of creating silicon chip, he said, adding that in principle, a SPIDER chip and traditional IC chip could be manufactured on the same silicon wafer.
"Using the SPIDER technology, applications such as telecommunications, high-precision broadband sensing and spectroscopy, metrology, molecular fingerprinting, optical clocks and even attosecond physics, are all set for a major speed upgrade," he said.
In terms of its use in the upcoming National Broadband Network (NBN), Moss said it was too early to tell how fast the technology would be adopted.
"Exactly how much of the Australian network is going to exploit this kind of technology between cities is probably not quite clear at this point. It will probably evolve and I imagine at some point we will be using this technology," he said. However, he said that on a larger scale, the new technology would likely be adopted due to the need to keep country to country links at the cutting edge.
"The NBN [as a whole] will definitely benefit from it because the undersea links — anything that we access from overseas has to go through an undersea link and those are very, very leading edge. They use the highest technology because that's where the real bottlenecks are in terms of bandwidth."
The paper "Sub-picosecond phase-sensitive optical pulse characterization on a chip" that Moss contributed to will be published in the August edition of the Nature Photonics journal.