January 17, 2008

Several optical fiber improvements in cost and performance could speed the days of multi-gigabit networks

There have been several advances could make it a lot cheaper to deploy optical fiber to the home and to enable faster communication between networked computers.

1. A new method developed by the Bath photonics group cuts the production time of hollow-core optical fibres from around a week to a single day, reducing the overall cost of fabrication. Initial tests show that the fibre is also superior in virtually every respect to previous versions of the technology, making it an important step in the development of new technologies that use light instead of electrical circuits to carry information.

2. The EU-funded POF-ALL project have built a system that uses green light to transmit 100 megabits a second over a distance of 300 metres over plastic fiber and off-the-shelf components. They also used red light to transmit ten times faster still – one gigabit per second – over a 30m fibre. By the end of the project, in June 2008, they expect to have extended that to 100m. Home and office networks could be rewired with plastic optical fibre so simply and cheaply it could be a do-it-yourself job. 30% of optical network deployment costs are connecting from the exchange and into the building.

3. Previously in July 2007, Corning had a breakthrough based on a nanoStructures™ optical fiber design that allows the cabled fiber to be bent around very tight corners with virtually no signal loss.

New hollow core fiber from Bath photonics group

The new procedure developed by the Bath photonics group shows how a tiny change to these fibres – narrowing the wall of glass around the large central hole by just a hundred nanometres (a 10 millionth of a metre) – broadens the range of wavelengths which can be transmitted.

They achieved this by omitting some of the most difficult steps in the fabrication procedure, reducing the time required to make the fibres from around a week to a single day.

The improved fibre was developed as part of a European Commission-funded Framework 6 project ‘NextGenPCF’ for applications in gas sensing.

However, the superior performance of the fibre means that it could have a significant impact in a range of fields such as laser design and pulsed beam delivery, spectroscopy, biomedical and surgical optics, laser machining, the automotive industry and space science.

A follow-up project, POF-PLUS, is intended to further develop optoelectronic components for plastic fibre and is awaiting a final decision on EU funding.

Two products are already coming to the market. Luceat is commercialising an optical Ethernet switch (a router) using plastic fibre technology and the Fraunhofer Institute is looking for partners to market an integrated optical transceiver to work at one gigabit a second with plastic fibre.

Cornings improved fiber will enable telecommunications carriers to economically offer true high-speed Internet, voice and HDTV services to virtually all commercial and residential (apartment and condominium) buildings. Current optical fiber installations lose signal strength and effectiveness when bent around corners and routed through a building, making it difficult and expensive to run fiber all the way to customers' homes.

There are more than 680 million apartment homes worldwide, including more than 25 million in the United States. The high cost of installation and difficulty in delivering fiber to the home made this market unappealing to most providers. Corning is working with Verizon to deploy fiber to the home.

(Euronext Paris and NYSE: ALU) today announced in a post deadline paper
accepted at the OFC/NFOEC conference in Anaheim, California, that combined
research teams from the United States and France successfully transmitted a
world record 25.6 Terabits per second (Tb/s) of optical data over a single
fiber strand, using 160 Wavelength-Division Multiplexed (WDM) channels -
enough bandwidth to transmit the data from more 600 DVDs per second.

The experimental system transmitted 25.6Tbit/s of data through three
80-km spans.

The previous record transmission was 14 tbps

In Sept 2006, the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation laid claim to the speed throne with a 14 terabits per second transmission over a single 100-mile fiber optic line. That number easily surpassed the previous record of 10Tbps and demonstrates how far we've come in just three years, when we wrote about a 5.44Gbps [Oct 2003]transmission.