New optical fiber cable transmits at the speed of 17 million internet connections

It has 19 cores which can each carry a signal and can be adopted without any infrastructure changes.
Ameya Paleja
Stock image of fiber optic cables that connect the world today
Image of fiber optic cables that connect the world today


An international collaboration of researchers has achieved a new speed record after transferring 1.7 petabits of data over 41 miles (67 km) of standard optical fiber cable. That's the equivalent speed of 17 million broadband internet connections.

Optical fiber cables are a critical component of the modern world of the internet, where they connect data centers, satellite ground stations, mobile phone towers as well as continents to one another.

Each optical fiber cable is no thicker than a human hair (125 microns) yet is powerful enough to handle the world's internet traffic. Tech companies like Facebook even own their own undersea cable infrastructure to make global connections.

A short history of optical fiber cables

It was only in 1988 that the first optical fiber cable was laid across the Atlantic Ocean when Zuckerberg was just four years old. Called TAT8, the cable had a capacity of 20 megabits and was instrumental in setting up the world wide web. But it soon reached its capacity.

More than three decades later, Grace Hopper, the latest generation optical fiber capable, was put into service and had a capacity of 22 terabits, more than a million times what the TAT8 could carry.

With the increasing demand for services like streaming content, video conferencing, etc., even the newer optical fiber cables could soon reach their capacity. Researchers have tried multiple innovations, such as using different colors and polarisations to maximize the capacity of optical fiber cables.

Next-generation optical fiber cable

A multinational team of researchers, therefore, set out to make the next generation of optical fiber cable that can cater to even higher demands of data transfer. Current cables have a single core through which multiple light signals are sent.

New optical fiber cable transmits at the speed of 17 million internet connections
Next generation optical fiber cables could been deployed in 5-10 years

Since the technology has its limitations, the researchers hailing from Australia, Japan, The Netherlands, and Italy, went over multiple design options. The fibers could be made thicker, but that would have made them less flexible and more difficult in the long haul as they would also be more fragile.

Adding more fibers was also considered but this would increase the cost of the equipment needed to make the system work while also increasing demand for more fibers.

Finally, the researchers settled on a design that uses 19 cores that can each carry a signal. Since the fiber made in this way was still able to meet global standards, it can be used without any changes to existing infrastructure. Moreover, the setup uses lesser digital processing; it also reduces the power required to transmit bits of information.

Researchers at Macquarie University in Sydney, who were also part of the research collaboration, developed a glass chip crucial to the creation of the 19-core fiber. Using 3D printing, the researchers etched a waveguide pattern into the glass chip. This allowed feeding signals into 19 individual cores simultaneously with uniform low losses.

The fiber was developed by the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) and Sumitomo Electric Industries Ltd in Japan. The researchers expect the technology to make undersea cables in the coming five-ten years and facilitate research in a wide spectrum of research areas ranging from space to sewage, a press release said.