The lion king

New detector pushes internet speed limits to new heights

Researchers at DTU’s basic research center, NanoPhoton, have invented a new type of detector capable of breaking the internal data transmission speed limit between servers in data centers. The detector will decode the data transmitted by the light, and the project will be carried out thanks to an ERC Proof of Concept grant of approx. DKK 1.1 million, awarded to Professor Jesper Mørk and his research team at the start of 2022, writes the Technological University of Denmark – DTU – in a press release.

70% of global Internet traffic takes place in data centers, where servers work together to deliver what we request through the Internet, whether it’s a Netflix series, a cat shelter website and from a social welfare organization, or from research results on ‘what is photonics?’

Faster transmission between data centers

Cooperation between servers requires them to be internally connected and able to collect and exchange the requested data. This is called intra-data center communication, and this is where the new detector can make a difference, says postdoc Dagmawi Alemayehu Bekele, DTU Fotonik, who will lead further development of the new detector.

“With our detector, we can contribute to even faster internal data transmission in data centers. For consumers, this means they will get more out of their broadband connections and experience ever-shorter response times on the internet,” says Dagmawi Alemayehu Bekele.

Faster internet is a necessity

The demand for Internet broadband is constantly increasing and becoming more important as more people and devices (Internet of Things) are connected to the Internet, while the demand for movie and video streaming increases and that more and more virtual reality platforms appear.

Global internet traffic was estimated to be around 235 exabytes (EB) per month in 2021. This is an amount of data equal to continuously streaming one video in HD for around 9.3 million years. Or that every citizen of the city of Aalborg broadcast uninterrupted HD video from birth to death.

Exploiting the physical phenomenon

The detector will decode laser light using a physical phenomenon called Fano resonance, which was first identified in quantum mechanics and is why the new detector is called a fano detector.

The fano detector will decode the data transmitted by the coherently modulated laser light. This is a well-known technique for using many of the different properties (amplitude, phase, and polarization) of light for data transmission. Conventional technology used in today’s data centers uses only one property of light, its intensity, to transmit data. In other words, coherent modulation can be used to “pack” light with more data than today. And with the fano detector, it becomes possible to “unpack” the data again.

The limit on the amount of data we can transmit today using current technology is 800 gigabits per second, and there is currently no technology on the market that can provide higher speeds. According to Dagmawi Alemayehu Bekele, the ambition is to make this possible with DTU’s new fano detector:

“If we can successfully develop a solution where we combine the data sent with coherently modulated laser light at one end with our fano detector to decode the light again at the other end, it will be possible to break the 800 limit. gigabits per second.”

Greener Internet consumption

The fano detector will even help make our internet consumption greener. Global data center electricity demand is expected to increase from 210 TWh in 2015 to 3,200 TWh by 2030 (TWh stands for terawatt hour, or 1 billion kilowatts per hour). By 2030, data centers are expected to handle 8% of global electricity demand.

“We expect the fano detector to be 40% more energy efficient, mainly because you don’t need to use as many lasers for the actual data transmission, because we can send data more efficiently when we have a fano detector for decoding. This also means that the detector will help reduce heat development in data centers, thus also reducing the need to use energy for cooling in data centers” , explains Dagmawi Alemayehu Bekele.

The researchers have already taken the first steps towards the realization of the new detector.

“We have already tested the principles of our fano detector on a first-generation photonic silicon chip, and the results look really promising,” says Dagmawi Alemayehu Bekele.

The research team expects the first prototype of the fano detector to be ready for presentation to the outside world by the end of 2022.

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