Optical sets sights on 270G

Forget 40G and 100G - researchers at Cornell University in the US have developed a silicon-based optical device that can transport data packets over a single wave at 270 Gbps, all on a single chip and requiring no additional energy.

At the heart of the device is an optical silicon chip called a "time telescope" - which sounds futuristic but is actually an idea first developed over 20 years ago by Brian Kolner at Hewlett-Packard. The basic idea of a time lens is to stretch or compress a light wave over time, rather than spatially as a normal optical lens does.

By using silicon waveguides as the lenses, it's possible to selectively speed up or slow down the different parts of a 10-GHz light pulse encoded with data, lead research author Mark Foster told BBC News. So, for example, if you send a long 10-GHz pulse with a time lens on either end (a "time telescope", if you will), the back half of the pulse speeds up while the other slows down, which basically results in a much shorter pulse carrying the same amount of data.

More importantly, it also does this so "in an energy-efficient manner, because the only power required is that needed to run the laser," according to MIT Technology Review.

The obvious commercial barrier is that existing optical networks still rely on electronics to maintain the integrity of the signal across long distances, as well as the five-nines performance expectations of carriers and their customers. And it's typically the electronic component that serves as the optical bottleneck.

But Alexander Gaeta, professor of applied and engineering physics at Cornell University, who co-developed the device, told Technology Review that silicon-based lasers (a technology just under four years old) and modulators have proven they can hold their own in the optical playground. If electronic components can be made with the same material, that could clear the way for an integrated chip that would enable the electronics to keep up with the photons, he says.

Even if that were possible today, however, the market for 270G waves is arguably a long way off. While 40G technology is starting to make headway in terrestrial fiber deployments, 100G barely is out of the gate. The Optical Internetworking Forum is still hashing out implementation agreements for 100G modulation formats and module specs necessary to help 100G avoid 40G's current status as a niche technology. Ovum analyst Dana Cooperson sees 100G as "realistically reaching commercial costs and volumes beyond 2012, given remaining technical challenges and the fragility of the optical food chain."

Still, that's not stopping vendors from upping the ante in the backbone speed wars. In late September, Alcatel-Lucent's Bell Labs claimed a new optical speed record of over 100 Petabits per second.kilometer - which was achieved via 155 lasers, each operating at a different frequency and carrying 100 Gbps over 7,000 km, with network repeaters spaced 90 km apart (20% greater than usual in such networks, Alcatel-Lucent says).

(Note to avoid confusion: 155 lasers x 100G = 15.5 Tbps. The 100 Petabits per second.kilometer figure comes from multiplying 15.5 Tbps x 7,000 km.)

Bell Labs said the experiment used a technique called "coherent detection", which enabled them to increase the number of light sources introduced into a single fiber yet still separate the light into its constituent colors at the destination.


Enterprises to double mobile broadband access

Businesses worldwide are increasingly recognizing the mobility and flexibility that mobile broadband brings, demonstrated by the steady growth in the number of employees being given mobile broadband access. According to a GSMA-commissioned survey of 1,000 enterprises, 12.3% of global workforces (per business) have access to mobile broadband, with this figure seen expanding to 25% in the next 12 months.

As many as 59% of global organizations have provided wireless internet access to their employees, while more than 70% have given them laptops, VPN access and various other remote access technologies.

Employees in more senior positions are the biggest beneficiaries of this trend, with 60% of company directors and 62% of managers being provided with mobile broadband devices by their firms. Company sales representatives (39%) are also given preferential treatment with regard to mobile broadband access due to the nature of their job.

In terms of technology, HSPA trumps Wi-Fi, with 36% of global IT managers and CIOs currently deploying HSPA as their primary means of employee mobile broadband access. Worldwide enterprise mobile technology budgets are expected to nearly double over the next 12 months, with supporting employee mobility and driving employee productivity now among the top priorities for senior IT staff.

HSPA is seen benefiting from this trend, with 24% of those polled saying HSPA will become the industry standard over the next five years. According to GSMA, enhanced economies of scale will make HSPA even more accessible in the future.