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Terabit fiber optic speeds just came closer to reality

Nokia and Deutsche Telekom have managed 1Tbps in the field thanks to clever transmissions.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
September 18, 2016
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Lawrence Lawry

Sure, researchers have been showing off terabit data speeds in fiber optics for years, but they've seldom been practical. That exotic technology may work over long distances, but it can quickly fall apart when you throw typical network loads in the mix. However, it's about to become much more practical. Nokia Bell Labs, Deutsche Telekom and the Technical University of Munich have shown off 1Tbps data speeds in a field trial that involved "real conditions," with varying channel conditions and traffic levels.

The secret was a new modulation technique, Probabilistic Constellation Shaping. Instead of using all the networking's constellation points (the "alphabet of the transmission") equally, like typical fiber, it prefers those points with lower amplitudes -- the ones that are less susceptible to noise. That helps transmissions reach up to 30 percent further, since you can adapt the transmission rate to fit the channel. It's so effective that the team got close to the theoretical peak data speeds possible for the fiber connection.

You're likely not going to see these terabit fiber lines in regular use for a while, since there's a large gap between a field test and making commercially available lines. The timing might be ideal, mind you -- 5G cellular data is just gathering momentum, and telecoms will need gobs of bandwidth to cope with the increased demands. A realistic 1Tbps fiber option would make sure that the internet's wired backbones don't collapse under the load.

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