Engineers extend the reach of fiber optical communication signals

Electrical engineers in California have reached a new milestone in fiber optical communication. They succeeded in a quest to extend the range that information can travel in fiber optic cables without distorting the signal. The pioneering development will result in faster and cheaper communication networks. Photonics engineers managed to increase the power of optical signals in a study conducted at the University of California, San Diego. Robust signals have the capacity to travel further and increase data transmission rates.

Over the years, researchers have been working hard trying to prevent signals from weakening over long distances. The recent breakthrough could lower the cost of data transmission by eliminating the need for optical communications repeaters (regenerators). The devices are placed along fiber lines and regenerate an optical signal by altering it to an electrical signal. The signal is then retransmitted as an optical signal. Researchers overcame loss caused by both cable attenuation and signal distortion. Fiber optic cables are used extensively for internet connections, cable, as well as landline and wireless phone networks.

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Benefits for future networks

The researchers at the University of California deciphered optical communication signals after covering a distance of 7,460 miles or 12,000 kilometers. The experiment utilized fiber optic cables supported by standard amplifiers in place of optical communications repeaters. Regenerators play the role of supercomputers and must be attached to the channel in the link. In a light-wave transmission, they have the capacity to handle between 80 and 200 channels, thus averting the setting up of a transparent optical network. This has the added benefit of putting a stop to periodic electronic regeneration, which ultimately leads to more efficient and cheaper transmission. The cost of constructing network infrastructure will also decrease significantly.

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Impact of wideband frequency combs

To achieve the breakthrough, the electrical engineers depended on wideband frequency combs developed specifically for this experiment. The combs allow technicians to detect any distortion occurring over long distances. Detection creates a window of opportunity by enabling engineers to predict and reverse signal loss at the receiving end of the optic fiber network. Crosstalk (distortion) can take place in a network when certain physical laws are not observed. Researchers unraveled the physics behind the loss of signal quality and eventually removed power barriers associated with optical fibers.

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Frequency combs allow the synchronization of frequency variations occurring in various optical information streams. This technique counterbalances the distortion before it occurs between the multiple communications channels contained by the same optical fiber. In the end, researchers successfully increased the optical signals’ power by 20 fold. The approach can work well with multiple optical channels, thanks to the wideband frequency combs.

Source: Eurekalert

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