Compared with conventional internet networks, fiber is fast. Blazing fast. But a group of Australian researchers are convinced it’s about to get a whole lot faster. More than 100 times faster, in fact.

“We can potentially achieve ultra-wide bandwidth,” explains the research group, “with six-orders magnitude of increased data access compared to current technology.”

Current fiber limitations

The existing limitations on the speed of fiber optic cables boils down to the way information is encoded, transmitted, and decoded using light waves in those cables. Currently, data is encoded primarily in the color spectrum of light waves, while some recent developments have enabled data to be encoded also in other properties of light, including its brightness, polarisation, and direction of propagation.

All told, existing fiber technology is using only a fraction of light’s potential to carry vast amounts of data at high speed. To unlock ever faster speeds, data needs to be encoded in additional dimensions of light waves.

Existing fiber technology is using only a fraction of light’s potential to carry vast amounts of data at high speed. Click To Tweet

Detecting twisted light

For years, the most promising option has been to use “orbital angular momentum”—light that’s been twisted into a spiral, similar to a DNA helix. This essentially creates a third dimension to store and transmit information. The problem? You need equipment the size of a dining table to decode data stored on twisted light, which is highly impractical for telecommunications.

But that might be about to change, and this is where the researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology come in. They’ve invented a nanoscale chip measuring 4.2 micrometers by 4.2 micrometers that can decode twisted light and help unlock the full potential of using light to carry data.

The chip, explain the researchers, “consists of an array of individually-controlled single units, and each single unit is capable of independently processing the angular momentum information.”

That means the device can handle parallel processing: “A large number of optical fibres in one fibre bundle can be processed through the chip in parallel, which means the processing speed can be significantly increased considering how large the array is. For example, if we take 100 by 100 of such units in the array for the chip, then the speed could be boosted by four orders of magnitude.”

Implementation

There’s already been talk of using this breakthrough to upgrade Australia’s national broadband network, and the technology holds the potential to quickly and dramatically enhance the speeds of fiber networks around the world.

The good news is this nano chip technology sounds like it could be used to relatively, easily upgrade existing fiber networks, with minimal disruption to current infrastructure. The chip is designed to simply fit on the end of a fiber optic cable, so new cable doesn’t need to be run. And because the chip is made with silicone-based materials, it’s compatible with most of today’s existing fiber technology.

Future-proofing your network

Overall, this breakthrough points to the untapped potential of fiber and how future improvements will likely be implemented. Rather than replacing existing cabling, breakthroughs will focus on transfer and termination points, where data is coded and decoded.

This underscores the importance of securing your existing fiber network and any net-new fiber installations with waterproof and dustproof enclosures. Whether you need a housing for a single fiber-to-the-premises cable, or for a large-scale array of cables, installing the right enclosure is a vital future-proofing step to take advantage of new technology and breakthroughs.