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UK Scientists Warn Fibre Optic Broadband Cable Running Out of Capacity

Posted: 15th Oct, 2010 By: MarkJ
fibre optic cable limitsA scientist working at the University of Southampton's Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) has warned that existing data rates (i.e. cross country network connection speeds etc.) are already exceeding more than half the maximum known rate of fibre optic cables.

Many people have historically, and incorrectly, thought of Fibre Optic cable as being future proof; only limited in speed by the technology used to prepare the light signal itself. However new lab tests show that current technology is fast approaching its limits and may require a radical redesign.

The ORC's David J. Richardson (Filling the Light Pipe) said:

"A growing realization has emerged within the telecommunications industry that the end of the phenomenal growth in optical fiber communication capacity is within sight. At this year's Optical Fiber Communication Conference (OFC 2010), several groups reported results within a factor of 2 of the ultimate capacity limits of existing optical fiber technology.

Without radical innovation in our physical network infrastructure—that is, improvements in the key physical properties of transmission fibers and the optical amplifiers that we rely on to transmit data over long distances—we face what has been widely referred to as a "capacity crunch" that could severely constrain future Internet growth, as well as having social and political ramifications."

The cable's most in question typically concern primary links, such as undersea cables between countries and or more localised national infrastructure. This is increasingly being put under strain by the rapid grow of higher quality internet services (e.g. online video) and faster home / business broadband ISP connections.

Naturally there is precious little to stop countries simply laying more undersea cable links to circumvent the problem until a solution is found, although doing this with internal / national infrastructure would be colossally expensive and time consuming. This is not to be confused with smaller domestic fibre optic broadband links, although there are some big similarities.

We have of course already seen some new fibre optic breakthroughs. The ORC recently developed a practical new data transmission system, which is being developed as part of the EU-funded FP7 PHASORS project (here), and could potentially eliminate problematic interference.

However the situation being discussed actually appears to factor in those short-medium term benefits and yet still points to the emergence of a problem in the not too distant future.
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