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article imageScientists overcome the major issue of large fibre optic networks

By James Walker     Jun 28, 2015 in Technology
Scientists have discovered a way to keep data moving at high speeds over very long fibre optic networks by preventing the signals from weakening. It removes a key limitation of fibre today and could make future networks faster and significantly cheaper.
ISPreview reports that the Photonics Systems Group, a fibre research group working from the University of California, managed to send data 7,400 miles (12,000 km) along a fibre optic cable. The signal was sent at 20 times the power that is used today but without any repeaters and with only standard signal amplifiers. The signals emerged without any errors at the destination.
Until now, a major inhibitor of developing ultrafast fibre has been the issue of how optical signals degrade when travelling over long distances. To solve this problem, repeaters and amplifiers are placed along the fibre cables to keep the signal moving, but this slows it down. Installing the amplifiers also costs money which the consumer ultimately pays for.
Increasing the power of the signals so that less amplifiers and repeaters are required only works up to a certain point. Continuing to raise the power leads to distortion of the transmission. Nikola Alic, co-author of the research group's paper, explained to ISPreview: "Today’s fiber optic systems are a little like quicksand. With quicksand, the more you struggle, the faster you sink. With fiber optics, after a certain point, the more power you add to the signal, the more distortion you get, in effect preventing a longer reach."
Last year, the team theorised a possible solution that would enable them to raise the power beyond anything ever achieved before without requiring any amplifiers or repeaters. The effects were observed in the remarkable achievement made by the group this week.
ISPreview explains that they did it by developing a system that acts as a "concert conductor" for the different frequencies of the optical signals: red, green and blue. The conductor system synchronises the frequencies together so that they can compensate in advance for the traditional interference of copper cabling.
The system has only been tested on between three and five frequency channels so far. The group is confident that it can be applied to much larger setups though. This is crucial because most primary fibre cables today have 30 or more operational channels.
If testing continues positively, the breakthrough could result in reduced cost and increased speed over international distances. Although the latter may not benefit every user, it would lead to quicker downloads from remote file servers and reduced latency in communication programs such as Skype.
More about Fibre, Optic, Optical, Light, Signals
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