Radical optical router delivers super-fast internet

Research project at MIT claims to bring 1000-fold speed increase

MIT researchers have developed technology that they say will make the internet 100 to 1000 times faster and could make high-speed data access a lot cheaper.

The trick to such dramatic performance gains lies within the routers that direct traffic on the internet, according to Vincent Chan, an electrical engineering and computer science professor at MIT, who led the research team. Chan says replacing electrical signals inside the routers with faster optical signals would make the internet 100 times if not 1000 times faster, while also reducing the amount of energy it consumes.

What would the internet be like if it ran that much faster? Today, a user who has a hard time downloading a 100MB file would be able to easily send a 10GB file, according to Chan.

With increasingly powerful computer processors and bandwidth-hungry applications, the internet will reach a "choke point" within three to five years, Chan believes.

Today's routers have trouble dealing with incoming fibre-optic signals, so those signals are converted into electrical signals that can be stored in memory until they can be processed, according to MIT . The electrical signals are subsequently converted back to optical signals so they can be sent back out.

That process eats up time and energy, so Chan and his team developed technology they call flow switching that would eliminate the need for such conversions.

A speedier internet would be a huge accomplishment, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group. "Right now, the network is the bottleneck for hosted computing. This change could transform the industry as we know it," he says.

However, analysts noted that it would be expensive to replace current routers with the new technology.

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