Researchers have successfully demonstrated an optical chip that could yield terabit-per-second internet connectivity.
The chip enables optical time division multiplexing (OTDM) and could increase the efficiency and capacity of current optical systems by processing communications optically, rather than electrically.
By avoiding the usual electrical-optical-electrical conversion in fibre networks, the researchers expect to achieve a hundredfold increase in network speeds.
"At the moment, Telstra is transmitting data at 10Gbps," said physicist Trung Duc Vo, who is developing the chip at the University of Sydney.
"We have demonstrated speeds of 1.28Tbps, around 100 times faster than the current networks," said "But [the speed] could be increased by another factor of ten."
Vo said electrical-optical-electrical conversion is like driving in heavy traffic, hitting a high-speed freeway, then exiting the freeway into heavy traffic once again.
While current fibre-to the-premise (FTTP) networks involve such conversions, "'optics only' is the way of the future," he said.
"You wouldn't need to convert electrical signals to optical signals, so you save a lot of energy," Vo said.
"Whereas transistors switch on and off and generate heat, photons hardly heat at all and cooling time is a thousand times faster than electronics."
With collaborators from the Australian National University and Danish Technical University, Vo set up a Tbps network with optical chips installed at the transmitter and receiver.
One chip generated a high bit-rate signal at the transmitter, and another successfully received and demultiplexed the data at 1.28 Tbps.
The chip is at least five years from being commercially ready, with the researchers planning further improvements to its efficiency and an investigation into the health effects of the chip's material, chalcogenide.
Vo expected it to cost no more than $100 per chip to manufacture.
He said chips could be added to nodes of Australia's National Broadband Network to enable more efficient "optics only" networking across Australia.
Vo's results (pdf) were presented at the Optical Fibre Communications Conference in San Diego in March, building on a longstanding project at the university's Centre for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems, CUDOS.