We Have to Slow Down Light, to Speed Up The Internet

Haipyng

We are consuming huge amounts of bandwidth daily. Just 10 years ago I would have been thrilled with a 4Mb down 512Kb up connection. Today that’s just so-so when it comes to broadband. Downloading video, music, or whatever, is consuming massive amounts of bandwidth and communications companies are working hard to keep up. It’s only going to get more crowded on our current system.

Fiber optics is the big thing for moving large amounts of data around. After all, there isn’t anything that is faster than light (without getting into Quantum physics…). The internet’s current speed woes comes from routing information to its various destinations, not transporting it.

Fiber optics still relies on regular routers to relay information to its correct destination. Where fiber optics can handle frequencies in the terahertz range, electronics work on the gigahertz range. Those pulses of light have to be converted into electrical signals, which are stored, routed, and turned back into optical signals with lasers to be transmitted on. The conversion, besides adding significant cost and complexity, it slows down the data transmission.

So the simple thing to do is to slow light down and remove the needed conversion process. I can hear Han Solo now, “Slow down light speed? Not on this ship brother.”

That is just what researchers are trying to do using "metamaterials". If they can slow down light during the switching process, there would be no need for the electrical conversion step. It could be a first step into building a light based computer.

You can catch the whole article on the BBC website here .

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