Laser makes internet backbone speeds four-times faster

An important breakthrough will be critical as more internet-connected devices are made available.

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Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have developed a laser that could quadruple internet speeds on the existing internet backbone.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Amnon Yariv, one of the developers and a former winner of the National Medal of Science, said the quadrupling of bandwidth is just the beginning for the technology.

"Our first run lasers, fabricated at Caltech, are capable of of a 4x increase in the number of bytes-per-second carried by each channel," Yariv said in an email interview with the Washington Post. "This number will increase with our continuing work, but even at this level, the economic advantages are very big."

According to the Post, the laser operates closer to a single frequency than any other laser created before, enabling it to increase the amount of data it can carry through fiber optic cables.

Yariv put this in context by saying an internet backbone channel running at 40 Gbps today would increase to 160 Gbps by using their laser. The Post’s Brian Fung extrapolated that to the 400 Gbps speeds touted during Cisco’s unveiling of its CRS-X core routers last year, projecting 1,600 Gbps speeds attainable with Caltech's breakthrough, or "164,000 times faster than the 10 Mbps connection serving the average American home today."

A very helpful section of the Caltech researchers' findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explains how they were able to work around an obstacle to higher bandwidth on fiber-optic networks.

"The data rate of modern optical fiber communication channels is increasingly constrained by the noise inherent in its principal light source: the semiconductor laser (SCL). Here, we examine the phase noise of SCLs due to the spontaneous recombination of excited carriers radiating into the lasing mode as mandated by quantum mechanics. By incorporating a very high-Q optical resonator as an integral part of a hybrid Si/III-V laser cavity, we can remove most of the modal energy from the optically lossy III-V active region, thereby reducing the spontaneous emission rate while increasing the number of phase-stabilizing stored photons."

As many will be quick to point out, this isn't likely to have a real-world impact on individual internet users any time soon. More broadly, however, this is the exact kind of breakthrough we'll need as the Internet of Things bring us closer to the 50 billion connected-device milestone that Cisco has projected for 2020.

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