Novel Fibre Optic Receiver Helps Researchers Break Data Transmission Record


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Data infrastructures are increasingly strained by the rapid development in new technologies – from 5G to the Internet of Things – where the demand for bandwidth-hungry applications continues to rise. Optical connectivity requirements imposed by such data explosion means there’s a growing need for energy-efficient, multi-channel links with fast data transfer rates.

Representatives from IBM Research, together with a consortium from the EU-funded ADDAPT project, have introduced a novel optical receiver that can support an aggregate bandwidth of 160 Gb/s through 4 optical fibres. Their work was announced in a press release by the Optical Society (OSA): “This is not only the fastest data transmission speed to date, but the newly developed optical receiver also features the link power-on/off functionality.”

The receiver can activate and achieve phase-lock in 8 ns, the shortest switch time on record, according to the researchers. They also argued that link utilisation in data centres is less than 10 % for 99 % of the links. This means optical transceivers – devices that use fibre optical technology to send and receive data – waste power the rest of the time by sending idle data packets that miss information.

The researchers noted that the rapid power-on/off feature will enhance link utilisation and greatly reduce energy consumption on a chip or in an optical interconnect system. This is because the receiver would only use power when data packets are transmitted through the optical link.

Alessandro Cevrero, one of the researchers quoted in the OSA press release, said: “This is the first optical receiver that combines high-speed data transmission rate and rapid power-on and off functionality while being extremely low in the ‘power-on’ state.” He added that in this state, the receiver consumes about 88 mW.

The optical receiver has four identical channels and is equipped with analogue circuits that rapidly align the receiver’s clock with the arrival of the incoming data. It also detects the optical signal sequences to rapidly turn the link system on and off.

Cevrero also noted that improving the power efficiency of optical links enables scientists to build significantly faster, higher performance computer systems, since one can “cram” higher bandwidth in the same thermal budget of the package. In addition, saving on energy consumption helps reduce the CO2 emission from the optical network, leading to greener optical communication systems.

According to Cevrero, the researchers’ next step is to validate a complete optical interconnect system by measuring the optical transmitter. Interconnection refers to the deployment of IT traffic exchange points that integrate several numerous discrete entities.

ADDAPT (Adaptive Data and Power Aware Transceivers for Optical Communications) aimed at the development and technology take-up of dynamic transceiver subsystems. The work done during the project’s lifetime focused on standards-driven, marketable solutions. It combined the know-how and skills of both academia and industry, including device manufacturers, communication equipment suppliers and network operators.

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