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Researchers have broken the capacity limits of fiber optic networks

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You can allay those fears that the fiber optic network that delivers your internet is going to overload. At UC San Diego's Qualcomm Institute, engineers not only broke the supposed limits of fiber optic data transmission — they utterly smashed it, increasing the power of optical signals almost twenty times the base level. Engineers have usually cranked up the power of the signal to send and receive data faster. However, at one point, that power increase starts to create interference, degrading whatever's getting send to the point of not delivering the data at all. As more light is beamed through cases, the amount of interference between carriers increases — at some point, the data becomes so distorted that it can't be untangled and decoded by the receiver. This time, engineers were able to send the information 7,400 miles without the need for pricey electronic regenerators to boost the signal.

The breakthrough here comes from wideband "frequency combs" that keeps signal distortions predictable (and thus reversible) and the end of the line -- and it means the capacity of the world's fiber optic networks could gain a very a substantial boost. The Qualcomm Institute's Nikola Alic, a lead author on the paper, called current fiber optic systems "a little like quicksand... the more you struggle, the faster you sink."

"The more power you add to the signal, the more distortion you get, in effect preventing a longer reach. Our approach removes this power limit, which in turn extends how far signals can travel in optical fiber without needing a repeater." Electronic repeaters are an expensive way of keeping a signal going, but don't solve the issues of signal distortion. These experimental "frequency combs" could do exactly that.

[Image credit: jah~/Flickr]

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