Breakthrough fibre can transfer data at 99.7pc the speed of light – 73 terabits per second

28 Mar 2013

Researchers at the University of Southampton in the UK have claimed to produce optical fibre that can transfer data at 99.7pc the speed of light.

The breakthrough has enabled them to send data at 73.7 terabits per second, 1,000 times faster than today’s state-of-the-art 40Gb fibre optic links and at much lower latency, according to Extreme Tech.

In effect they have managed to send data at the speed limits of the universe.

The speed of light in a vacuum is 299,792,458 meters per second, or 186,282 miles per second.

In traditional fibre optics, light travels 31pc slower.

A team led by Francesco Poletti at the University of Southampton has adapted the principle that light travels faster through air to transmit data down a hollow optical fibre mostly made of air.

They came up with physical issues, such as what happens when the fibre is forced to bend around corners by improving the hollow design using an ultra-thin photonic-bandgap rim, enabling data to travel 31pc faster.

To achieve the speed of 73.7 terabits per second, the researchers used wave division multiplexing to transmit three modes of 96 channels of 256Gbps.

In their abstract, the team said: “Air guidance in hollow-core fibres can reduce fibre latency very significantly. However, state-of-the-art technology cannot achieve the combined values of loss, bandwidth and mode-coupling characteristics required for high-capacity data transmission. Here, we report a fundamentally improved hollow-core photonic-bandgap fibre that provides a record combination of low loss (3.5 dB km−1) and wide bandwidth (160 nm), and use it to transmit 37 × 40 Gbit s−1channels at a 1.54 µs km−1 faster speed than in a conventional fibre.

“This represents the first experimental demonstration of fibre-based wavelength division multiplexed data transmission at close to (99.7pc) the speed of light in vacuum,” they wrote.

Digital highway image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years