Micro-comb device invented at Swinburne University powers the research.

Researchers from Monash, Swinburne and RMIT universities have recorded the world’s fastest internet speed from a single optical chip of 44.2 Terabits per second. At this speed, it’s possible to download 1000 HD movies in a few hundreds of a second and channelling thousands of CCTV cameras over the internet at full resolution and full frame rate becomes possible.

Demonstrations of this magnitude are usually confined to a laboratory. But, for this study, researchers achieved these quick speeds using existing communications infrastructure where they were able to efficiently load-test the network. They used a new device that replaces 80 lasers with one single piece of equipment known as a micro-comb, which is smaller and lighter than existing telecommunications hardware.

Researchers were able to load-test the network using 76.6km of dark (dormant) optical fibres installed across Melbourne – this existing infrastructure mirrors that used by the NBN. Within these fibres, researchers placed the micro-comb – contributed by Swinburne University, as part of a broad international collaboration – which acts like a rainbow made up of hundreds of high-quality infrared lasers from a single chip. Each laser has the capacity to be used as a separate communications channel. Researchers were able to send maximum data down each channel, simulating peak internet usage, across 4THz of bandwidth.

It’s the first time any micro-comb has been used in a field trial – this technology delivers the greatest volume of data produced from a single optical chip. The technology has the capacity to support the high-speed internet connections of 1.8 million households in Melbourne, Australia, at the same time, and could support billions across the world during peak periods.

Published in the  journal Nature Communications, these findings by a research team led by Dr Bill Corcoran (Monash), Distinguished Professor Arnan Mitchell (RMIT) and Professor David Moss (Swinburne), have the potential to fast-track the next 25 years of Australia’s telecommunications capacity.

“We’re currently getting a sneak-peak of how the infrastructure for the internet will hold up in 2-3 years’ time, due to the unprecedented number of people using the internet for remote work, socialising and streaming,” said Dr Bill Corcoran, co-lead author of the study and lecturer in Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering at Monash University.

“It’s really showing us that we need to be able to scale the capacity of our internet connections. Importantly, our research demonstrates that existing NBN fibres in the ground can be the backbone of communications networks now and in the future. We’ve developed something that is scalable to meet future needs.

“And it’s not just Netflix we’re talking about here – it’s the broader scale of what we use our communication networks for. This data can be used for self-driving cars and future transportation and it can help the medicine, education, finance and e-commerce industries, as well as enable us to read with our grandchildren from kilometres away.”

Distinguished Professor Mitchell said reaching the optimum data speed of 44.2 Tbps showed the potential of existing Australian infrastructure. The future ambition of the project is to scale up the current transmitters from hundreds of gigabytes per second towards tens of terabytes per second without increasing size, weight or cost.

“Long-term, we hope to create integrated photonic chips that could enable this sort of data rate to be achieved across existing optical fibre links with minimal cost,” Distinguished Professor Mitchell said.

“Initially, these would be attractive for ultra-high speed communications between data centres. However, we could imagine this technology becoming sufficiently low cost and compact that it could be deployed for commercial use by the general public in cities across the world.”

According to Professor Moss, director of the Optical Sciences Centre at Swinburne University, in the 10 years since he co-invented micro-comb chips, they have become an enormously important field of research.

“It is truly exciting to see their capability in ultra-high bandwidth fibre optic telecommunications coming to fruition. This work represents a world-record for bandwidth down a single optical fibre from a single chip source and represents an enormous breakthrough for part of the network which does the heaviest lifting. Micro-combs offer enormous promise for us to meet the world’s insatiable demand for bandwidth.”