Fibre optic cable, similar to what is being proposed by the NBN Co for the roll out of a $43 billion dollar broadband network in Australia, are not “limitless conduits for data” a new report has found with researchers already hitting the limits of what fibre cable can deliver.
David Richardson of the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre in the UK says in a recent Science report that the best data rates measured in laboratory settings challenge the perceived notion that fibres are limitless conduits for data.
Richardson told BBC News “The thought that the current fibre technology has infinite capacity is not true – we are beginning to hit the fundamental limits of the current technology.
“We need to be looking at the next big breakthrough to allow us to continue to scale as we have traditionally done.”
He said there are more increases to be had, for instance, in the way the light signals are encoded, but that “radical” gains will likely come from changes in the fibres themselves.
The BBC reports that the capacity limits of fibre cable has until recently been in the preparation of the light signals that pass through the cables.
But the report reviews recent laboratory results showing data rates that are more than half the ultimate limit of fibre optic cables.
New technology may stretch the capacity of the fibre optic cables used to carry data sooner than has long been thought, according to the Science report.
It calls for urgent research to develop higher-bandwidth cables.
A number of innovations have in the past massively increased the data capacity of optical fibres.
The first change improved the transmission of the fibres, so that optical signals did not simply get absorbed as they passed through.
This resulted in fibres with data rates hundreds of times higher and theoretical capacities thousands of times higher than that.
Those improved fibres have become standard and now lie underground and undersea all over the globe; the limitation since then has been in the lasers and electronics that prepare and then translate the optical signals on either side of these “light pipes”.
We may all increasingly need to get used to the idea that bandwidth – just like water and energy – is a valuable commodity to be used wisely”
“If you gain a factor of two in bandwidth by developing a whole new amplifier technology, that’s perhaps two or three years of capacity growth. To get radical changes – to get factors of 100 or 1000 – it’s going to be extremely demanding.
“It’s likely we’re going to have to go right back to the fundamentals of the optics, the actual light pipes. And if you want to develop the next generation of cable, you want to be doing that 10 years in advance, not for tomorrow.”