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Sydney Uni "hero" chip breaks light speed record

A team of Australian scientists have demonstrated a photonic chip that boosts the data rate of fibre-optic connections by more than 64 times to 640Gbps, promising faster, cheaper internet for all.
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Written by Alex Serpo and  AAP on

A team of Australian scientists have demonstrated a photonic chip that boosts the data rate of fibre-optic connections by more than 64 times to 640Gbps, promising faster, cheaper internet for all.

The chip was developed by the Centre for Ultra-high Bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS) at the University of Sydney. Professor Ben Eggleton, director of CUDOS, said "it's a proof of concept, a hero experiment as we call it in the field."

At 640Gbps, Eggleton's "hero" chip is twice the speed of IBM's 300Gbps "Optochip", which the company has previously claimed as the fastest fibre optic switch in the world. Currently, Australia's fastest fibre optic backbone links run at 10Gbps.

"We focus our research on the freeways, that's what ultimately reduces the cost of bandwidth," Eggleton said.

In development for four years, the chip itself is 5cm long, 2cm wide and a few millimetres thick. It manages its faster throughput by removing bottlenecks. "The switch itself is an all optics switch, and that's much faster than electronics," Eggleton said.

In order to avoid electronics, the optical chip guides the light using tiny channels or "scratches" in a special glass. "The glass is the key," Eggleton said. "[The scratches] are in fact wires that will guide the light in the chip, the same way copper is used to guide electrons in a micro electronics circuit."

As the chip only uses common materials, Eggleton expects production costs will be kept to a minimum. "These types of devices in mass production are very cheap, but the volume is not there because we are not looking for ubiquitous deployment."

The chip was developed in combination with the Australian National University in Canberra; The Technical University of Denmark in Lyngby, Denmark; and the University of Science and Technology in Huazhong, China.

While the chip has been currently shown to work at 640Gbps, Eggleton says even faster data rates can still be achieved. "We are in the business of doing terabit per second transmission, that's really a new paradigm for optical communications."

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