September 9, 2010

Scientists Improving Fiber-Optic With Auto-Tune Software

Scientists have found a way to improve the data capacity of fiber optic networks, according to a recent BBC news report.

The researchers said the growth in Internet applications like YouTube and iPlayer that require large bandwidth will eventually stretch the limits of long-distance fiber links.

The new system would help eliminate most of the interference caused by other signals and amplifiers by using "auto-tune" software.

Scientists say the device can plug directly into existing networks.

Data is sent through fiber optic cable as a sequence of bits coded into the properties of a light beam.  However, the bits can become distorted after great lengths of fiber.

The distortion is due to phase noise, which is an imperfection in reproducing exactly when different parts of the light signal arrive, or due to "cross-talk" signals sent down a fiber that influence one another.

The sharp-edged jumps of a digital signal are degraded into ever-more unintelligible squiggles because of the interferences.

An EU-funded team has demonstrated a device that can "clean up" a noisy signal and re-transmit it with fuller capacity.

"With this demonstration we've shown that it is possible to use the capabilities of the optical fiber to the full without being restricted by the capabilities of the electronics," Periklis Petropoulos, a researcher on the project from the University of Southampton's Optoelectronics Research Centre, told BBC news.

The output signal is returned to its sharp-edged nature, similar to a fiber-optic version of the auto-tune software that can "clean up" a singer's voice.

"You could say that in its final functionality, it is like auto-tune," Petropoulos told BBC.

Sebastien Lahtinen of broadband use website ThinkBroadband told BBC that the advance was particularly useful for long-haul links, which takes place when data cables stretch across continents and oceans.

"This may help to get faster Internet to many African countries which have recently benefited from a new fiber optic cable that runs around the sea border," he told BBC.

"In terms of next-generation broadband, the main problem in the UK is getting fiber as close to the home as possible rather than capacity over those fibers," he said "(so) I don't think it's something that will benefit the increasing rollout of broadband."

Petropoulos said the device was a laboratory demonstration, but similar technology would become essential in a world where bandwidth demand is continually on the rise.

"The technologies we are using in today's networks will not see us through for much longer into the future."

"Devices like these will become a necessity to be employed in our telecommunications networks," he told BBC.


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