Working in collaboration with two private companies, Xtera and KDDI Research, engineers at UCL have recently set a new data transmission speed record, clocking in at 178 terabits per second (or 178,000,000 megabits/s), which would make it possible to download the entire Netflix library in under a second.
To achieve this, researchers deployed a variety of amplifier technologies to boost signal power, thereby enabling the transmission of data through a much wider range of wavelengths than is currently possible with commercially available optical fibres.
Furthermore, the team developed new Geometric Shaping (GS) constellations (signal combination patterns necessary for maximising the efficiency of the phase, brightness, and polarisation of light), which allowed them to adjust the properties of each individual wavelength as needed.
In the near future, the technique could provide a low-cost method of boosting data transmission speed, as it does not necessitate the development and construction of new infrastructure. All that’s required is an upgrade to the amplifiers located on optical fibre routes at 40-100 km intervals.
The speed achieved by the team, led by Dr Lidia Galdino (UCL electronic & Electrical Engineering), beats the previous record by 20%, and comes close to the theoretical limit of data transmission proposed by the mathematician Claude Shannon in 1949.
“While current state-of-the-art cloud data-centre interconnections are capable of transporting up to 35 terabits a second, we are working with new technologies that utilise more efficiently the existing infrastructure, making better use of optical fibre bandwidth and enabling a world record transmission rate of 178 terabits a second,” Galdino said.
According to her, driving down the cost of data transmission is crucial for the development of technologies that are likely to improve people’s lives in new and unexpected ways, in addition to being important during the current pandemic, considering that some operators are already experiencing as much as a 60% increase in internet traffic over pre-crisis levels.