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New optical technology could improve network capabilities

By Donna Donnowitz
August 5, 2011
Optical cabling has really come into prevalence during the past few years, and many telecom providers are currently working to expand their optical networks around the globe. As the technology has become more pervasive in a number of sectors, researchers have been working to develop ways to improve optical cabling moving forward. Recently, experts from Southampton University in the United Kingdom made a major breakthrough that will likely impact the optical cabling industry and many other technology sectors, the Engineer reports.

Researchers that specialize in the field of optoelectronics recently discovered a new method of device manufacturing that uses phase change chalcogenides to improve the physical makeup of optical cabling, semiconductors and other key technologies, according to the news source.

Dan Hewak, professor at Southampton University, told the Engineer the new solution diversifies how phase change materials can be deployed in technological settings.

"With chalcogenides we can form the material into fibers, thin films, microspheres, nanophotonics - anything that you can make glass into, but they also have the electronic properties of semiconductors, so it’s almost a marriage of the two worlds," Hewak told the news source.

Using chalcogenides to give optical cables phase change capabilities could dramatically improve optical network performance. Hewak told the Engineer current optical cabling is made primarily from silica glass, which is inactive and simply a transit path for light signals. With chalcogenides forming the glass for optical networks, the cabling itself is active and can be used to improve switching speeds, remove the need for amplifiers and repeaters, reduce network bottlenecks and improve overall performance, Hewak explained.

The research is currently at a relatively early stage where chalcogenide-based optical cables and semiconductors have been made and had their capabilities proven, but the manufacturing processes have not been refined to a point where mainstream companies will be able to take the technology and turn it into products that can be deployed on a large scale. However, the researchers recently received a major grant to work with Cambridge University to begin preparing chalcogenides-based technology for widespread use, the report said.

While optical cabling advances illustrate the technology's rising potential, some telecom carriers are still concerned with costs and waiting for prices to drop before expanding their fiber to the home networks. According to a recent Infonetics Research report, many carriers are moving slowly to upgrade current FTTH networks due to high component costs.


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