UCL sets new digital data speed record

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Imagine downloading Game of Thrones – all seasons, in HD – within a single second. That’s what a next-generation optical transmission system developed by University College London scientists could do.

Their system can handle a rate of 1.125 terabit per second – that’s 50,000 times faster than the average “superfast” broadband connection in the UK.

The team set the record for the fastest ever data rate for digital information.

The infrastructure itself isn’t revolutionary. The system uses optical fibres, which are already used to carry binary code as light signals through thousands of kilometres of wire.

What has made the system’s speed possible is splitting up the data.

To achieve this, the team encoded digital information using techniques common in wireless communications but less common in optical systems.

They sent data through 15 different transmitting channels, each carrying an optical signals as a different wavelength, and combined these channels in a single optical receiver.

Grouping channels together in this way created what the team refer to as a “super-channel”, generally believed to be the future in next-gen communication systems.

“Super-channels are becoming increasingly important for core optical communications systems, which transfer bulk data flows between large cities, countries or even continents,” said electronics engineer Robert Maher, who led the study.

“However, using a single receiver varies the levels of performance of each optical sub-channel so we had to finely optimise both the modulation format and code rate for each optical channel individually to maximise the net information data rate,” he explained.

To achieve their record-breaking speeds, the authors hooked their transmitter straight up to the receiver. This doesn’t exactly mirror the real world – the long stretches of optical wiring data has to travel through can distort the signals. The team will next measure how their data rates fair over a long distance transmission.

The work was published in Scientific Reports

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