A single chip has managed a transfer of over a petabit-per-second, according to new research from scientists affiliated with universities in Denmark, Sweden and Japan. That’s over a million gigabits of data per second, or the entire internet’s worth of traffic. 

The researchers and their team successfully proved transmission of 1.84 petabits over a 7.9km fiber cable, relying on only a single chip. That’s not quite as efficient as several of the other larger, bulkier systems, which have reached up to 10.66 petabits, however the key here is scale; this system is extremely compact.

By breaking data streams into 37 sections, one for each core of a fiber optic cable, and then further reducing each stream into 223 channels, researchers removed significant interference that reduces the speed of optical systems. Thus, they managed to deliver an internet’s worth of data transmission through a single chip.

Researchers’ perspectives

“You could say the average internet traffic in the world is about a petabit per second. What we transmit is two times that,” said A. A. Jørgensen, in a comment to New Scientist. “It’s an incredibly large amount of data that we’re sending through, essentially, less than a square millimetre [of cable]. It just goes to show that we can go so much further than we are today with internet connections.”

Breakthrough details

According to researchers, such a system may also be able to support speeds of up to 100 petabits-per-second in massively parallel systems.

Effectively, high-speed data transmission that typically demands a fiber optic cable and bulky equipment is now possible via smaller on-chip configurations. Technically speaking, rather than having multiple lasers in parallel, it is possible to shrink much of this equipment to the silicon level. In so doing, it’s also possible to remove some of the difficulties involved in sending massive data packages long distances, at high speeds.

More information

Key contributing elements to the new scientific breakthroughs are microcombs, which offer a means of generating constant and measurable frequencies of light. Not only are they useful for shrinking down the requirements for a system such as this, but they have also recently seen breakthroughs when added to CMOS chips.

According to Jørgensen, more could be added to a CMOS chip to further integrate systems. In time, a more integrated, speedier system will be developed. Funnel more of these devices into a single parallel system, and you’ll have mega-bandwidth via a single server rack.

Any questions?

In short, there are new possibilities for the internet.

The average broadband download speed in the US is 167 megabits per second. You need 1,000 megabits to reach a gigabit, and then 1 million gigabits to get up to 1 petabit. Any way you slice it, 1.8 petabits is a significant volume of data to transmit in a single second.

The climate impact

For now, scientists simply have a proof of concept. However, the solution that they have come up with could ultimately mean that internet systems will be faster and will draw on less power than what’s currently in-place.

“Our solution provides a potential for replacing hundreds of thousands of the lasers located at Internet hubs and data centers, all of which guzzle power and generate heat,” says electrical engineer Leif Katsuo Oxenløwe, of the Technical University of Denmark.

This new development could contribute to the creation of an internet that leaves a smaller climate footprint. It will be some time before the new innovation is adopted and scaled by industry, but it leaves many scientists and computer engineers excited about the future.

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