Collaboration brings innovation in optics technologies

10 March 2014

Innovation and collaboration are keys improving communication technology. The telecom industry as well as researchers in Photonics and Astronomy, from the University of Sydney School of Physics have come together in a collaboration to work on future technologies and devices for optical fiber networks.

The University School of Physics Centre for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS), Astronomers from the Institute of Photonics and Optical Science (IPOS) and Finisar Australia have pooled their research excellence in order to overcome the limits of current fiber optic communication technology.

"In the next 5 years we could be approaching the limits of the information our optical fibers can carry," says Dr Jochen Schroder from CUDOS

Currently, we can send many pieces of information down a single optical fiber by using different wavelengths or colours of light and then separating the information at the receiving end. This is a process called wavelength division multiplexing (WDM). For example two bits of data can be sent down the one fiber, one bit on a blue light and the other on red light. If I want the data on the red light, I simply filter out the. There is however a limit to the amount of information we can send in this way.

Instead of sending multiple pieces of information with different wavelengths, this collaboration used different forms in which light can propagate along the fiber optic cable (called fiber modes). This technique is referred as Space-Division Multiplexing (SDM).

"The unique collaboration uses instrumentation technologies developed by researchers in Astrophotonics for precise astronomical measurements to be used for future telecommunication networks." - Dr Joel Carpenter

"Due to our increasing use of the internet we see large traffic growth and there is a big push to keep up with resulting data demand on our fiber optic cables," said Dr Joel Carpenter, first author on the paper.

CUDOS researchers then took this device and combined it with technology from Finisar, to produce a so-called Wavelength Selective Switch (WSS) which works efficiently with SDM fibre and can switch three-times as much data as current state-of-the-art technology, without significant cost increase.

"SDM fibers have recently seen significant attention as a means to use space as an additional dimension to overcome the fundamental bandwidth limits of optical fibers," said Dr Carpenter."

Astrophotonics needs to use the SDM technique, to be able to collect as much light as possible then manipulate the light. The Astrophontonics researchers at Sydney therefore developed a device known as photonic lantern, which converts the light from multinode fibres into multiple standard so-called single-mode fibres.

"It is very exiting when a photonic technology developed for Astronomy can harness the development of new paths for optical fiber telecommunications," said Dr Sergio Leon-Saval.

Read the full Optics Express paper online here.

Contact: Tom Gordon

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