Wednesday, 26 September 2018 10:32

Photonic chip to boost 5G networks, IoT and more

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A university developed photonic chip, which you'd think would be visual, is claimed to be able to "harness sound waves to speed up local networks".

We're told that it used to be known as the "information superhighway", but is actually "the fibre-optic infrastructure on which our gigabytes and petabytes of data whizz around the world at (nearly) the speed of light".

Like any highway system, we know that "increased traffic has created slowdowns, especially at the junctions where data jumps on or off the system".

"Local and access networks especially, such as financial trading systems, city-wide mobile phone networks and cloud computing warehouses, are therefore not as fast as they could be", according to the University of Sydney.

It turns out this is because "increasingly complex digital signal processing and laser-based ‘local oscillator’ systems are needed to unpack the photonic, or optical, information and transfer it into the electronic information that computers can process.

"Now, scientists at the University of Sydney have for the first time developed a chip-based information recovery technique that eliminates the need for a separate laser-based local oscillator and complex digital signal processing system."

Dr Elias Giacoumidis, joint lead author of a new study, said: “Our technique uses the interaction of photons and acoustic waves to enable an increase in signal capacity and therefore speed. This allows for the successful extraction and regeneration of the signal for electronic processing at very-high speed.”

The University explains: "The incoming photonic signal is processed in a filter on a chip made from a glass known as chalcogenide. This material has acoustic properties that allows a photonic pulse to ‘capture’ the incoming information and transport it on the chip to be processed into electronic information.

"This removes the need for complicated laser oscillators and complex digital signal processing."

Dr Amol Choudhary from the University of Sydney Nano Institute and School of Physics said: “This will increase processing speed by microseconds, reducing latency or what is referred to as ‘lag’ in the gaming community. While this doesn’t sound a lot, it will make a huge difference in high-speed services, such as the financial sector and emerging e-health applications.”

The photonic-acoustic interaction harnesses what is known as "stimulated Brillouin scattering, an effect used by the Sydney team to develop photonic chips for information processing".

Dr Choudhary continued: “Our demonstration device using stimulated Brillouin scattering has produced a record-breaking narrowband of about 265 megahertz bandwidth for carrier signal extraction and regeneration. This narrow bandwidth increases the overall spectral efficiency and therefore overall capacity of the system."

Group research leader and Director of Sydney Nano, Professor Ben Eggleton, said: “The fact that this system is lower in complexity and includes extraction speedup means it has huge potential benefit in a wide range of local and access systems such as metropolitan 5G networks, financial trading, cloud computing and the Internet-of-Things.”

The study was published today in Optica

Dr Choudhary said the research team’s next steps would be to construct prototype receiver chips for further testing.

The study was done in collaboration with Monash University and the Australian National University

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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