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Australian scientists set Internet speed record using single optical chip

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May 22 (UPI) — Scientists in Australia have developed a novel optical chip that promises to dramatically boost Internet speeds.

Using a single chip, researchers achieved the fastest Internet data speeds ever recorded, 44.2 terabits per second — speeds capable of downloading a thousand HD movies in less than a second. Researchers detailed the record-setting performance in a paper published Friday in the journal Nature Communications.

The new chip is what is called soliton crystal micro-comb.

“It consists of a very low loss ring engineered to support pulses of light that stabilize into chains like atoms in a crystal,” Arnan Mitchell, distinguished professor and director of the Micro Nano Research Facility at RMIT University, told UPI in an email. “This soliton crystal micro-comb is much easier to get into a stable state than other types of combs and is very stable once it is there.”

The chip works by splitting the light running through already laid Internet fibers into 80 unique channels, a feat that previously required a cumbersome device featuring 80 lasers. Instead of 80 individual lasers, the micro-comb integrates the equivalent of hundreds of high-quality infrared lasers into a single chip.

For the test, scientists used nearly 50 miles of existing optical fibers in the Melbourne metropolitan area.

“We modulated information onto the individual comb lines using sophisticated phase and amplitude multiplexing, sent the information around the loop and measured it again on its return,” Mitchell said.

Because the chip was made using fabrication techniques commonly used to make large quantities of commercial computer chips, researchers expect production of the new optical chip could be quickly scaled.

Mitchell and his colleagues envision the tiny chips being deployed at Internet data traffic points, intersections on the information highway where data for entire neighborhoods or small towns converge.

As more and more people get online — and more and more people work from home in the age of COVID-19 — the technology could help alleviate the slowdowns caused by increased Internet usage.

“We are interested to talk with companies who work on high-speed transmission systems to partner on integrating these photonic systems into commercial transceivers,” Mitchell said.

In addition to boosting Internet speeds for residential users, the technology could be incorporated into a variety of devices, from medical instruments to self-driving cars.

“Our team uses similar micro-combs for many other applications where we can take advantage of the combs to perform hundreds of measurements simultaneously,” Mitchell said. “Beyond high-speed communications, we are currently working on using combs for applications in sensing, including spectroscopy, inertial sensing with potential applications in satellite positioning, ultra-fast analysis of radar signals and even systems for reading point of care biosensors.”

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