Faster, cheaper light-based telecom

Digital telecommunication runs on light: Computers’ electrical signals are translated into pulses of light that travel through fiber-optic cables. A research team based at the technology university ETH Zurich has made a translator that’s 100 times smaller than today’s devices — and simpler and faster.

The result: Computers, and possibly an Internet, that would use a fraction of the energy to transmit vastly more data much faster than possible today. The team did it by devising a way to manipulate the electromagnetic field through which electric current travels as it’s converted to light.

The new translator not only is small enough to fit inside most electric circuits, which today’s models can’t, but it also needs just a few thousandths of a watt of power to handle 70 gigabits of data per second. That’s about one-hundredth the power consumption of today’s translators. 

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