The heart of the Internet is a network of high-capacity optical fibers that spans continents. But while optical signals transmit information much more efficiently than electrical signals, they’re harder to control. The routers that direct traffic on the Internet typically convert optical signals to electrical ones for processing, then convert them back for transmission, a process that consumes time and energy.
In recent years, however, a group of MIT researchers led by Vincent Chan, the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has demonstrated a new way of organizing optical networks that, in most cases, would eliminate this inefficient conversion process. As a result, it could make the Internet 100 or even 1,000 times faster while actually reducing the amount of energy it consumes.
One of the reasons that optical data transmission is so efficient is that different wavelengths of light loaded with different information can travel over the same fiber. But problems arise when optical signals coming from different directions reach a router at the same time. Converting them to electrical signals allows the router to store them in memory until it can get to them. The wait may be a matter of milliseconds, but there’s no cost-effective way to hold an optical signal still for even that short a time.
Chan’s approach, called “flow switching,” solves this problem in a different way...
From MIT News Office
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