Researchers from USC, the University of Arizona and seven other institutions are attempting to save the Internet by making it cheaper, faster and better.
With the rising demand for Internet access outstripping the existing Internet capacity, scientists are turning to optoelectronic technology – the transmission of data using light. The technology is well established but is still being developed in order to handle the increasing data loads that users require.
In 2008, the National Science Foundation gave a five-year, $18.5 million grant to establish an engineering research center that is based at the University of Arizona and unites it with USC and seven other universities in a collaboration known as the Center for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN).
CIAN’s goal is to solve the data crisis by bringing optoelectronic technology to its full potential.
“CIAN is aimed at transforming the Internet to a high-speed network that uses less energy, is more reliable so that it reconfigures itself around network impairments, is scalable to make it suitable for a growing number of end users and is not too costly,” said Nasser Peyghambarian, chair of photonics and lasers at the College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona.
“The University of Arizona, USC and seven other university partners are working together on improving the reliability of the network as well as the network speed and cost,” he said.
Other partner institutions are UCLA, the University of California at San Diego, the California Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley, Columbia University, Norfolk State University and Tuskegee University.
“We’re using optics to enable higher capacity communications,” said Alan Willner, holder of the Steven and Kathryn Sample Chair in Engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Willner and Columbia professor Keren Bergman are leading the system and networking research for the group.
“I can send 10 gigabits per second across the backbone of the national network,” Willner said. “The problem is, how do you get 10 gigabits to every home, every access point?”
Now in its fourth year, the 10-university collaboration has made breakthroughs in transforming the way large amounts of data are transmitted.
In a paper published earlier this year in Optics Communications, a team of researchers developed three new methods of restoring degraded optical signals – a key hurdle to overcome when transmitting big chunks of data.
Willner said he hopes that one day, computer terminals will come equipped with chips that use these methods to clean up damaged data.