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A fiber optic network that operates at 99.7% the speed of light?

A fiber optic cable that can transfer data at near the speed of light is no longer just a theory.  Researchers in England have successfully transferred data at 99.7 percent the speed of light and have broken all manner of latency records as well.

Researchers working at England’s prestigious University of Southampton Optoelectronics Research Center have developed a new type of optical fiber that easily transfers data at nearly the speed of light in a vacuum.  They successfully transferred 73.7 terabits of information per second, which is approximately 10 terabytes per second. 

This recent fiber optic test broke all past records and demonstrated a much lower latency as well. In fact, this demonstration was approximately 1 thousand times faster than any fiber optic network available today. 

In a paper titled, “Towards high-capacity fibre-optic communications at the speed of light in vacuum, the research on the high-speed fiber optics was written by F. Poletti, N.V. Wheeler, et. al. and was made available online at the Nature  website on March 24, 2013.

For those unfamiliar with the science, the speed of light in a vacuum travels at approximately 186 thousand miles per second.  If light is traveling through a diamond or water it travels slower due to refraction. Therefore, due to refraction, when light is traveling through modern fiber optics cable, which is made with common silica, it travels approximately 31% slower.  

However, the new cable is hollow, thereby allowing the light to move without any interference and much like it does in our natural surroundings.  While the idea of a hollow fiber optic cable has been around for some time, it was never successfully implemented because the light just can’t travel as fast due to the nature of the conduit, at least not until now.

Regular fiber optic cable allows the light to bounce on the inside walls with their refractive index, which in turn allows light to travel continuously through the cable.  Making the cable hollow in the past prevented the natural refraction, which in turn made the data come to a stop and transferring information nearly impossible.  The problem with the hollow core theory was solved by the use of an ultra-thin ‘photonic-bandgap rim’.

The photonic-bandgap rim prevents any loss of light and has very little latency as compared to modern fiber optics and allows faster data transfer by 31%.  They used wave division multiplexing (WDM) to send approximately 40-gigabit signals through the cable, and the rate of transfer is reportedly the fastest in history.

While this new design is incredibly fast it will not be replacing most of the fiber optic cables in use.  The researchers do say it may be replacing the fiber optics used in supercomputer interconnections and data centers, which would benefit the most from this type of latency boost and data transfer rate.

Source: Research paper: doi:10.1038/nphoton.2013.45 – “Towards high-capacity fibre-optic communications at the speed of light in vacuum”

Jack Taylor
Jack Taylor is an accomplished writer who works as a freelance journalist and has contributed to many award winning media agencies, which includes VRzone. Born in 1971, Taylor holds a Bachelor of Science with a focus in Journalism, graduating Magna Cum Laude. An eclectic writer, Taylor specializes in editorials, trending technologies and controversial topics such as hacktivism and government spying.

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