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Fibre-optic networks to speed up with photonic chips

What used to be considered a nuisance is now being used to improve fibre-optic networks, according to a recent report.

Scientists at the University of Sydney Nano Institute have developed a technique to put acoustic noise in chips to use in receivers of information in fibre-optic networks.

The fibre-optic infrastructure on which the gigabytes and petabytes of data whizz around the world at nearly the speed of light was used to be called the information superhighway.

Similar to any highway system, increased traffic has slowed it down, particularly at the junctions where data jumps on or off the system.

Therefore, local and access networks like the financial trading systems, city-wide mobile phone networks and cloud computing warehouses are not as fast as they could be.

This happens because increasingly complex digital signal processing and laser-based ‘local oscillator’ systems are needed to unpack the photonic, or optical, information and transfer it into the electronic information that computers can process.

The scientists at the University have developed, for the first time, a chip-based information recovery technique.

The technique eliminates the need for a separate laser-based local oscillator and complex digital signal processing system.

The technique uses the interaction of photons and acoustic waves to enable an increase in signal capacity and therefore speed.

This allows for the successful extraction and regeneration of the signal for electronic processing at very-high speed.

The incoming photonic signal is processed in a filter on a chip made from a glass known as chalcogenide.

This material has acoustic properties that allow a photonic pulse to ‘capture’ the incoming information and transport it on the chip to be processed into electronic information.

This removes the need for complicated laser oscillators and complex digital signal processing.

This will increase processing speed by microseconds, thereby reducing latency or what the gaming community refers to as ‘lag.’

This may not sound a lot but it will make a huge difference in high-speed services, such as the financial sector and emerging e-health applications.

A stimulated Brillouin scattering is being harnessed by the photonic-acoustic interaction. It is the effect used by the Sydney team to develop photonic chips for information processing.

The demonstration device using stimulated Brillouin scattering has produced a record-breaking narrowband of about 265 megahertz bandwidth for carrier signal extraction and regeneration.

This narrow bandwidth increases the overall spectral efficiency and therefore overall capacity of the system.

Since this system is lower in complexity and includes extraction speedup, it means that it has huge potential benefit in a wide range of local and access systems such as metropolitan 5G networks, financial trading, cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT).

The next steps of the research team will be to construct prototype receiver chips for further testing.

The study was made in collaboration with Monash University and the Australian National University.

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