Life Tech Australia’s super-fast internet chip means cheap, quick things in the future

Australia’s super-fast internet chip means cheap, quick things in the future

internet city
Australia's growing appetite for faster internet may be answered by a teeny, tiny chip. Photo: Getty
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Australia’s internet could be faster and cheaper within a decade, thanks to a piece of technology that can blitz even the fastest speeds shown by the NBN.

Three Melbourne universities are behind the single optical chip, which has the power to download 1000 high-definition movies in less than a second, bolstering bandwidths beyond what we can even begin to imagine today.

It’s an important development for the country’s future internet infrastructure – traffic is growing by some 21 per cent each year – and bolsters Australia’s standing in the global race to dominate the next frontier of technology.

Monash, Swinburne and RMIT universities on Friday announced their chip had achieved a download speed of 44.2 terabits per second.

For perspective, the fastest speed on record set by the NBN is 13.8 tbps.

It’s thought to be a new official speed record for Australia, and possibly the world.

The chip boasts these speeds while simultaneously requiring less power, and taking up less physical space than existing methods.

Research lead Bill Corcoran, from Monash University, said the data rate recorded tripled that of the entire NBN, and was 100 times faster than any individual device active in the country’s fibre networks.

“… It’s not just Netflix we’re talking about here – it’s the broader scale of what we use our communication networks for,” Dr Corcoran said.

“This data can be used for self-driving cars and future transportation and it can help the medicine, education, finance and e-commerce industries.”

Although the technology will spur on innovations and advancements in a broad range of sectors, everyday Australians will enjoy better internet for a lower cost, telecommunications expert Mark Gregory said.

“It is significantly likely to reduce costs – the moves in this area mean we’re going to be able to have a larger capacity in the network at far lower costs than we currently have,” Dr Gregory, of RMIT, told The New Daily.

“That means for consumers, costs come down while the capabilities improve.

“We’re going to have the opportunity to have all of this appliances that people have been dreaming of – augmented reality, unlimited bandwidth for unlimited streaming.”

Small things ahead

This internet breakthrough is afforded in the smallest way: It all comes in a chip the size of a fingernail.

It uses an optical micro-comb to transmit data through infrared light.

We did say it was small. The micro-comb chip next to a $2 coin. Photo: Swinburne University

Optical networks are the ideal way into the future, Dr Gregory explained, and developments in this space help our move away from a combination of optical-electric infrastructure, to pure optical.

It’s likely the developments from this research project will begin to find their way into infrastructure in about 10 years, Dr Gregory said.

He tipped it will appear in the transmission process through the national network, and even in submarine cables.

Dr Gregory said because of the nature of the technology, it was highly unlikely it would be bolted-on or retro-fitted to existing NBN infrastructure.

Testing, testing

The university team actually used communications infrastructure in place around Melbourne to crunch the speeds their chip could reach.

The micro-comb chip replaced 80 lasers (which would normally take up the task) and planted into an infrastructure style that mirrors what is in place with the NBN.

It was run around optical fibres looped from RMIT’s city campus in Melbourne central, to Monash’s suburban campus in Clayton, totalling a round trip of 75 kilometres.

“This shows that the optical fibres we have in the ground today can handle huge capacity growth, simply by changing what we plug into those fibres,” Dr Corcoran wrote.

While there are still years of tests and improvements to be made before this chip meets the wider world, the research team and industry experts are hopefully it will become a staple in global communication technology – just like Australia’s invention of wi-fi.