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Researchers say their achievement can reduce the internet’s climate footprint.

An international group of researchers from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg claim to have achieved a data transmission speed of 1.8 petabits per second (Pbit/s) with a single laser and an optical chip, according to a report in The Register.

For reference, 1 petabit corresponds to 1 million gigabits. The DTU said in a statement that the new speed record is more than the total volume of global internet traffic sent every second. The team credits the characteristics of the frequency comb generated on its chip for the breakthrough, even though it wasn’t designed for the purpose. 

A single laser can replace thousands

The experimental demonstration showed that a single chip could easily carry 1.8 Pbit/s, which would require more than 1,000 lasers with contemporary state-of-the-art commercial equipment. Victor Torres Company, professor at Chalmers University of Technology, heads the research group that developed and manufactured the chip.

“What is special about this chip is that it produces a frequency comb with ideal characteristics for fiber-optical communications – it has high optical power and covers a broad bandwidth within the spectral region that is interesting for advanced optical communications”, said Company.

Interestingly enough, the chip was not optimized for this particular application. “In fact, some of the characteristic parameters were achieved by coincidence and not by design”, he added. “However, with efforts in my team, we are now capable to reverse engineer the process and achieve with high reproducibility microcombs for target applications in telecommunications.”

The researchers’ solution bodes well for the future power consumption of the Internet.

“Our solution provides a potential for replacing hundreds of thousands of the lasers located at Internet hubs and data centres, all of which guzzle power and generate heat. We have an opportunity to contribute to achieving an Internet that leaves a smaller climate footprint”, said Leif Katsuo Oxenløwe, Head of the Centre of Excellence for Silicon Photonics for Optical Communications (SPOC) at DTU.

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