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Making fast communication, faster

A chain is as strong as the weakest, I keep saying. The speed of the communication link as the speed of its slowest link. As long as signals that travel at the speed of light within fiber optic cables have to be converted to electronic signals to traverse semiconductors, that is the speed of the communication. This is about to change . . .

In June, researchers at the University of California, San Diego announced a method of engineering fiber optic cable that could make digital networks run 10 times faster. The idea is to get more parts of the system working closer to the speed of light, without involving the “slow” processing of electronic semiconductors.

“We’re going from millions of personal computers and billions of smartphones to tens of billions of devices, with and without people, and that is the early phase of all this,” said Larry Smarr, drector of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, located inside U.C.S.D. “A gigabit a second was fast in commercial networks, now we’re at 100 gigabits a second. A terabit a second will come and go. A petabit a second will come and go.”

In other words, Mr. Smarr thinks commercial networks will eventually be 10,000 times as fast as today’s best systems. “It will have to grow, if we’re going to continue what has become our primary basis of wealth creation,” he said.

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