Amid all the talk about big data and increased demand for storage as file sizes grow larger with more video and audio entering the picture, and the fact that we simply tend to keep more stuff, there’s an underlying truth: we’re going to need faster networks to shuttle these files back and forth. But after checking out some of the coverage of a recent conference focused on optics, I’m pretty confident that won’t be an issue.

The Optical Fiber Communication Conference was held in Los Angeles last week in conjunction with the National Fiber Optic Engineers Conference, a confab known as OFC/NFOEC. It’s a big event, with some 11,000 attendees, 500 exhibitors and, most important, nearly 800 technical presentations, many consisting of experts from industry and academia sharing their latest research. Following are just a few of the highlights.

Hidehiko Takara, a researcher from NTT Communications (the sponsor of this site), gave a talk with a title that caught my eye: “Spectrally Efficient Elastic Optical Path Networks: Toward 1 Tbps Era.”  His contention is that, as we see router interfaces extend beyond 100G bps, we’ll need optical networks in the 1 terabit per second range. To achieve that, NTT Network Innovation Laboratories “created and demonstrated a spectrally efficient, scalable elastic optical transport network architecture,” according to a statement on Marketwatch.com. Here’s the nub:

“Conventional optical networks allocate fixed bandwidth to every optical path–regardless of the actual traffic volume and path length on the basis of the ‘worst-case design policy.’ In stark contrast, the NTT researchers’ spectrum-sliced elastic optical path network, known as ‘SLICE,’ is flexible and relies on adaptive spectrum allocation to an optical path based on the traffic volume and path length. It essentially enables allocation of only the necessary minimum bandwidth corresponding to individual requests–providing significant savings of network resources.”

Looking into future applications, graphene-based modulators could be very compact and potentially perform at speeds up to 10 times faster than today’s technology allows

Allocating bandwidth based solely on need makes a ton of sense and you can see where it would enable carriers to send more data over their existing optical networks. Good stuff.

The conference also heard from researchers who are making great strides in wireless communications. From Photonics.com:

“A German team has created a new way to overcome many of the issues associated with bringing high-speed digital communications across challenging terrain and into remote areas, commonly referred to as the ‘last mile’ problem. They developed a record-speed wireless data bridge that transmits digital information much faster than today’s state-of-the-art systems — at unprecedented speeds of up to 20 billion bits of data per second — by using higher frequencies than those typically used in mobile communications.”

In fact, they are using much higher frequencies. The wireless bridge operates at 200 gigahertz (GHz), which is two orders of magnitude greater than cell phone frequencies, according to a statement on the project.

Also as the conference there was lots of talk about optical modulators, which are the gizmos that actually enable data to be sent over fiber-optic cables. Scientists from the University of California at Berkeley gave a presentation on the use of graphene in optical modulators, making the case that the substance creates more compact, efficient and faster modulators. From Photonics.com:

“Looking into future applications, graphene-based modulators could be very compact and potentially perform at speeds up to 10 times faster than today’s technology allows. They may someday enable consumers to stream full-length, high-definition 3-D movies onto their smartphones within mere seconds, the researchers said.”

As wonderful as that sounds, I’m sure enterprises will find those high-speed links useful for lots of other applications as well.

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