Researchers at University College of London (UCL) have set a record by achieving the fastest ever data rate of 1.125 terabits per second (Tb/s), nearly 50,000 times greater than the average speed of a UK superfast broadband connection, 24 megabits per second (Mb/s).
The achievement is a major step towards addressing the growing demand for faster data rates, as the current commercial optical transmission systems are capable of receiving single channel data rates of up to 100 gigabits per second (Gb/s).
Ever increasing digital content, cloud and e-health services, as well as the developing Internet of Things (IoT) would all benefit from the breakthrough.
The UCL team, which is researching on the capacity limits of optical transmission systems as part of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council-funded Unloc (UnLocking the capacity of optical communications) programme, has set this record in the Optical Networks Group.
UCL Electronic & Electrical Engineering lead researcher Dr Robert Maher said: "We are working with sophisticated equipment in our lab to design the next generation core networking and communications systems that can handle data signals at rates in excess of 1 terabit per second (Tb/s).
"To give an example, the data rate we have achieved would allow the entire HD Games of Thrones series to be downloaded within one second."
High data rates could be achieved as the team custom-built an optical communications system with multiple transmitting channels and a single receiver, using techniques from information theory and digital signal processing.
The new optical system grouped 15 channels into a super channel, which is expected to ‘be a way forward’ for the next generation of high-capacity communication systems.
Each of the 15 channels carry an optical signal of different wavelength, and were modulated using the 256QAM format.
The study, published in Scientific Reports, determined the best way of encoding information in optical signals, taking into account the limitations of the transmitter and receiver.
Coding techniques, which are commonly used in wireless communications but not yet widely used in optical communications, were applied to ensure the transmitted signals are adapted to distortions in the system electronics.
The researchers connected the transmitter directly to the receiver to achieve the maximum data rate.
According to Maher, high-bandwidth super-receivers receive an entire super-channel in one go and enable transfer of bulk data flows between large cities, countries or even continents.
The next step will now be to test the system and measure the achievable data rates in a long distance transmission scenario where optical signals can become distorted as they travel through thousands of kilometres of optical fibres.
UCL Unloc programme principal investigator Professor Polina Bayvel said: "This result is a milestone as it shows that terabit per second optical communications systems are possible in the quest to reach ever higher transmission capacities in optical fibres that carry the vast majority of all data generated or received.
"A high-capacity digital communications infrastructure underpins the internet and is essential to all aspects of the digital economy and everyday lives."
The breakthrough comes at a time when service providers are pursuing faster internet rates, with the UK having the best average mobile data speeds in the world at 20.4Mbps.
Earlier this week, ViaSat launched its ultra-high capacity satellite platform to provide high-speed and high-quality internet and video streaming through three satellites globally.
The company is promising 1-Terabit per second (1,000 Gigabits per second) capacity per satellite.
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