Faster than the speed of sound

03 July 2013 | Alex Hawkes

Alex Hawkes

Blog Author |


In February, Orange and Alcatel-Lucent laid claims to successfully completing the world’s first live trial of 400G. By May, BT and Ciena were boasting of an ‘800G super-channel’. The race to the commercial launch of the next-generation of fibre-optic super speeds is certainly gathering pace in 2013.

In February, Orange and Alcatel-Lucent laid claims to successfully completing the world’s first live trial of 400G. By May, BT and Ciena were boasting of an ‘800G super-channel’. The race to the commercial launch of the next-generation of fibre-optic super speeds is certainly gathering pace in 2013.

Indeed as these developments continue to occur, operators and vendors alike seem in even more of a hurry to let the world know about it. And its becoming quite hard to see the wood for the trees with all these ‘pioneering’ trials. Orange and Alcatel-Lucent ran 400G on an optical link between Paris and Lyon, a distance of approximately 391.5km, which is said to be able to transmit up to 17.6 Terabits of data per second. Ciena and BT’s 800Gbps ‘super-channel’ ran over a 410km stretch of the British operator’s optical backbone using a Polarisation Mode Dispersion fibre link.

In terms of how much closer this actually puts one vendor over the other to launching a commercial solution is anybody’s guess. What it does show is that carriers are scrambling to have their names attached to any groundbreaking technological developments. Next to IPX, 100G emerged as the second most highly sought after innovation in 2013 in Capacity’s recent groundbreaking C100 survey. Given the pressure on margins in their domestic markets, it’s no surprise that European operators in particular have cosied up so tightly to the vendor community.

A new research paper led by Bell Labs’ Dr Xiang Liu could level the playing field entirely. Using an idea similar to noise cancelling headphones, Dr Liu and his research team have been exploring ways to deal with the non-linear distortion which grows worse with distance. By putting not one beam of light down a fibre, but a pair, each a kind of mirror image of the other, the team were able to demonstrate speeds of 400Gbps on 12,800km of optical fibre - a distance farther than even the longest trans-oceanic link.

Tomorrow’s technology maybe closer to today than we think.