The next generation of optical networks needed to satisfy our appetite for bandwidth is currently under development. And researchers from Georgia Tech have built a new architecture which delivers super-broadband wired and wireless service simultaneously. This hybrid system "could allow dual wired/wireless transmission up to 100 times faster than current networks." In fact, this optical-wireless network can carry as many as 32 different channels, each providing 2.5 gigabit-per-second service to your home or your office. And companies such as NEC and BellSouth are already working on such hybrid optical-wireless communications networks.
Here is the introduction from the Georgia Tech news release.
The new hybrid system could allow dual wired/wireless transmission of the same content such as high-definition television, data and voice up to 100 times faster than current networks. The new architecture would reduce the cost of providing dramatically improved service to conference centers, airports, hotels, shopping malls – and ultimately to homes and small offices.
"The same services would be provided to customers who would either plug into the wired connection in the wall or access the same information through a wireless system," explained Gee-Kung Chang, a professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology
Below is a picture of two students using the optical equipment needed for this hybrid wired/wireless network (Credit: Gary Meek, for Georgia Tech).
But how this hybrid optical network will be integrated with existing ones?
The optical-wireless access network envisioned by Chang and his colleagues would connect to existing optical fiber networks that already serve much of the nation. But before entering a building, signals on the optical fiber would be optically up-converted in the central office from their normal infrared wavelengths to the millimeter-wave spectrum. Using a technique developed at Georgia Tech, wireless and baseband signals carried by multiple wavelengths would be converted onto the millimeter-wave carrier simultaneously.
Let's skip some technical details and get right to the point. With this technology, you'll be able to receive signals at data rates of up to 2.5 gigabits per second, which is much faster than what you can get today.
This research work has been presented at the OFC/NFOEC 2006 conference which was held on March 5-10 in Anaheim, California. The title of the paper was "Novel Optical-Wireless Access Network Architecture for Simultaneously Providing Broadband Wireless and Wired Services" but is not currently available online. Below are some additional details about this project as provided by this OFC/NFOEC press release.
This hybrid technique can be incorporated into all-optical-fiber networks (also known as fiber-to-the-home, or FTTH networks) that telecom providers are currently deploying in business and residential areas. In their network system, the researchers first use standard techniques to "up-convert" a digitally modulated fiber-optic signal in the infrared range to one in the microwave or millimeter-wave range.
This up-converted signal is split into two parts at the customer's premises, one that is detected by a high-speed receiver, then amplified before being transmitted as a wireless signal. The other part is sent directly to the plugs on a building wall via optical fibers. The key to this advance is the employment of low-cost optical receivers and amplifiers to provide the wired and wireless signals.
So when will see such networks? Probably not in the short term, but "companies such as NEC and BellSouth are already working on components integration and systems requirements needed for the hybrid optical-wireless communications network."
Sources: Georgia Institute of Technology news release, March 16, 2006; and various web sites
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