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The Pipes Powering the Internet Are Nearly Full--What Do We Do?

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Optical fibers.

Our gargantuan appetite for data is now threatening to push optical fiber to the breaking point.

Credit: Superstock

The optical fibers that transmit data throughout the Internet have almost reached their capacity limits, and nothing less than a revolutionary upgrade is needed to surpass them, according to experts.

Video remains the biggest consumer of Internet capacity, while 50 billion smart devices--the Internet of Things--are expected to be online by 2020, according to tech companies. The end of the decade also is when some scientists say conventional optical fiber will hit a wall in terms of data capacity.

The University of Glasgow's Martin Lavery has proposed an unusual scheme in which the laser beams used to carry data through the fiber would be fired through a spiral, and twisted together so they can be transmitted as one. Each beam would relay its own signal that can be separated and read at the other end.

"We can potentially have an infinite number," Lavery suggests. "The only restriction is the size of the optical fiber."

A different proposal from the University of Southampton's Walter Belardi considers hollow-core fibers filled with air, enabling up to 45-percent faster light transmission, while lower-quality glass cladding might further upgrade fiber performance. Belardi says the fibers' faster signal speeds and reduced costs could compensate for their greater signal loss.

From New Scientist
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