'Opto-chip' may bring mega-bandwidth


— 3:35 PM on April 9, 2000

Researchers have developed a new optical chip technology that makes traditional broadband technology look like a coffee stirrer staw compared to giant oil pipeline. With such enormous bandwidth, several exciting applications could be possible: holographic HDTV, instant downloads of DVD-quality movies off the Internet, smart cars, pocket video phones, or giant leaps in other communication networks (cable, satellite, etc).

The new optical chip is exciting because it is a modulator that runs on low voltage and can switch signals at up to 100GB/s. According to the article,

A single particle of the opto-chip material, 100 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, could handle all of a major corporation's telephone, computer, television and satellite traffic, the researchers said. Put another way, the opto-chip would require just one-twentieth of a second to download a two-hour movie in digital format.
The opto-chip material manufacturing process could be accomplished with a non-toxic, spray-paint-like technique costing only pennies. Other advantages include lower signal loss and heat levels. Like other breakthrough technologies in the past, military use will be investigated first.

While all these advantages seem great, the technology still has several problems to surmount. The bottleneck in these new systems would not be the connection itself, but slower traditional circuitry/infrastructure that can't move electrons as fast as fiber-optic technology. Unless another breakthrough is made, the huge and costly project of rewiring systems with fiber optics would have to be undertaken. Another economic problem, although not as significant, is convincing semiconductor makers to upgrade their older manufacturing technology. These problems are huge, and with the claims they are making, a "wait-until-I-see-it" view is best advised.

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