Speedier Lasers: Communication Gets Faster with Low-Cost Lasers
Streaming movies and cloud computing programs are eating up more and more Internet bandwidth every day, but a special class of laser may hold the key to ensuring the Web stays fast enough to handle the traffic. Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have managed to quadruple the speed of lasers as they pass through the fiber optic cables that allow for communications, but slow down the beams to well below the speed of light.
This discovery will make local networks, supercomputers and consumer electronics much more efficient and affordable. By using multiple channels, computer cables with a capacity of several hundred gigabytes per second (Gbits/s) can be constructed.
"The market for this technology is gigantic. In the huge data centers that handle the Internet, there are today over one hundred million surface-emitting lasers. That figure is expected to increase a hundredfold," said Anders Larsson, a professor at Chalmers who helped developed the high-speed laser together with the school's optoelectronics research group, which he leads.
Thanks to a smaller laser volume, surface-emitting lasers use less power without losing speed. The energy and power consumption is one-tenth of what a conventional laser requires while operating at 40 Gbit/s.
"The laser's unique design makes it cheap to produce, while it transmits data at high rates with low power consumption," Larsson said.
The combination could lead to a large-scale transition from electrical cables to optical cables in computers and as a substitute for side items such as USB cables. Electric wires can handle up to a few Gbit/s.
Larsson and his fellow researchers hope that this breakthrough may help ease up on the amount of power consumed by supercomputers and the type of large data centers run by Google, eBay and Amazon.
"Here we are heading for a power catastrophe. The data centers represent a few percents of America's entire electricity consumption," Larsson said.
The next step for the Chalmers researchers is to modify the design and refine the ways to control the laser in order to increase speed and reduce power consumption even further.
Their findings are published in Electronics Letters from IEEE Explore.
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