A new network design could increase internet speeds by 100 times, by removing the need to convert optical signals to electrical ones, according to MIT boffins.
The group of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered that a new type of router which doesn't have to translate optical signals into electrical signals could speed the Internet up by at least 100 times, and theoretically even as much as a thousand times.
Professor Vincent Chan has demonstrated a new way of organising optical networks that, in most cases, would eliminate this inefficient conversion process, speeding up data transfers and reducing the amount of energy consumed.
According to Chan, optical data transmissions are so efficient because different wavelengths of light loaded with different information can travel over the same fibre. But problems arise when optical signals coming from different directions reach a router at the same time. Converting them to electrical signals allows the router to store them in memory until it can get to them.
"The wait may be a matter of milliseconds," he writes, "but there’s no cost-effective way to hold an optical signal still for even that short a time."
Chan’s approach, called 'flow switching', solves this problem in a different way. Between locations that exchange large volumes of data, flow switching would establish a dedicated path across the network. For certain wavelengths of light, routers along that path would accept signals coming in from only one direction and send them off in only one direction. Since there’s no possibility of signals arriving from multiple directions, there’s never a need to store them in memory.
With growing demand for higher bandwidth, the new technology could become a reality, but the major hurdle is economic rather than technical. Implementing the new scheme would mean replacing huge numbers of existing routers, and most Internet users don't need the headline speeds right now.
Give it a couple of years when everyone is demanding high resolution 3D video at 120Hz on demand and that will be another thing.