Published on 26/03/2024
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Aston University researchers send data 4.5 million times faster than average broadband
Dr Ian Phillips with the wavelength management device
  • Fastest speed ever sent via specific wavelength bands which are not yet used in fibre optic systems
  • Expected this discovery will contribute to meeting massive data demand of the future
  • Technique uses existing network but increases its capacity to carry data.

Aston University researchers have sent data at a speed that is 4.5 million times faster than the average home broadband.

The rate is the fastest ever sent by opening up specific new wavelength bands that are not yet used in fibre optic systems.

As part of an international collaboration, the academics transferred data at a rate of 301 terabits or 301,000,000 megabits per second, using a single, standard optical fibre.

That’s compared to Ofcom’s UK home broadband performance report published in September 2023 which stated that the average broadband speed is just 69.4 Mbit/s megabits per second.  

Professor Wladek Forysiak from Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies and Dr Ian Phillips were part of the team that successfully transmitted the data. They worked in collaboration with researchers from National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) in Japan and Nokia Bell Labs in the USA.

As the demand for more data increases, it is expected the newly developed technology will help keep up with future demand. The scientists used optical fibres, small tubular strands of glass that pass information using light. Regular copper cables can’t carry data at such speeds.

The feat was achieved by opening up new wavelength bands that are not yet used in fibre optic systems. Different wavelength bands are equivalent to different colours of light being transmitted down the optical fibre.

They did this by developing new devices called optical amplifiers and optical gain equalizers to access them. 
Dr Phillips led the development of a management device, or optical processor, at Aston University. He said “Broadly speaking, data was sent via an optical fibre like a home or office internet connection. 

“However, alongside the commercially available C and L-bands, we used two additional spectral bands called E-band and S-band. Such bands traditionally haven’t been required because the C- and L-bands could deliver the required capacity to meet consumer needs. 

“Over the last few years Aston University has been developing optical amplifiers that operate in the E-band, which sits adjacent to the C-band in the electromagnetic spectrum but is about three times wider. Before the development of our device, no one had been able to properly emulate the E-band channels in a controlled way.”

Professor Forysiak added: “By increasing transmission capacity in the backbone network, our experiment could lead to vastly improved connections for end users.

“This groundbreaking accomplishment highlights the crucial role of advancing optical fibre technology in revolutionising communication networks for faster and more reliable data transmission. 

“Growing system capacity by using more of the available spectrum - not just the conventional C-band but also other bands such as the L, S and now E-bands can help to keep the cost of providing this bandwidth down. 

“It is also a ‘greener solution’ than deploying more, newer fibres and cables since it makes greater use of the existing deployed fibre network, increasing its capacity to carry data and prolonging its useful life & commercial value. “

The results of the experiment were published this month by the Institute of Engineering and Technology, the IET, and were presented as a post-deadline paper at the European Conference on Optical Communication (ECOC) held in Glasgow, October 2023.

Notes to editors

Ofcom states:
“Our research shows that average download speeds for home broadband have continued to increase. The average download speed was 69.4 Mbit/s in March 2023, a 17% increase year-on-year, as people have upgraded to higher-bandwidth services, including full-fibre connections.”

About Aston University
For over a century, Aston University’s enduring purpose has been to make our world a better place through education, research and innovation, by enabling our students to succeed in work and life, and by supporting our communities to thrive economically, socially and culturally.

Aston University’s history has been intertwined with the history of Birmingham, a remarkable city that once was the heartland of the Industrial Revolution and the manufacturing powerhouse of the world.

Born out of the First Industrial Revolution, Aston University has a proud and distinct heritage dating back to our formation as the School of Metallurgy in 1875, the first UK College of Technology in 1951, gaining university status by Royal Charter in 1966, and becoming The Guardian University of the Year in 2020.
Building on our outstanding past, we are now defining our place and role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (and beyond) within a rapidly changing world.

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