The laser telecommunication systems of the future

Demand for worldwide telecommunications is greater than ever. Long distance video conferencing, 3D gaming and smart mobile devices are all ‘next generation’ technologies placing pressure on existing networks. The use of smartphones alone is forecast to rise from today's global estimate of 500 million handsets to almost two billion by 2015.
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Photonics in sensing technologies

Researchers at Aston University believe ultra-long cavity fibre lasers could deliver the infrastructure and necessary information carrying capacity in optical networks to meet growing worldwide demand for ever-higher communication bandwidth, with reduced cost and power consumption per bit.

In 2009, the Photonics team headed by Professor Sergei Turitsyn transformed an optical fibre of 270km into the world’s longest laser. The laser is special as it can transmit information with virtually no degradation of signal power along the laser medium, creating
the platform for a new generation of high speed and high capacity communications.

Currently, when normal telephone conversations or data sent over the internet are converted to light in order to travel through standard optical fibres the signals lose around five per cent of their power for every kilometre that they travel. The signals then have to be amplified at some point to boost the signal power to ensure that they reach their destination, a process which creates high background noise and affects the signal quality. The new transmission medium provided by ultra-long fibre lasers greatly reduces noise effects at the same signal power compared to traditional transmission schemes.

A prestigious €1.7m grant has been awarded to Professor Turitsyn by the European
Research Council in recognition of his photonics research. This will fund research into using existing telecommunication components such as fibre optics for ‘next generation’ ultra-long lasers and the development of other laser sensing technologies.

Professor Turitsyn said: “Despite extraordinary advances in laser science, only recently have we viewed lasers as a transmission platform, and truly tested their limits. With the growth of internet traffic, communication systems are increasing significantly. The proposed laser technology offers a platform for improving the speed, reliability, security and capacity of optical communication systems particularly for long-haul telecommunications and sensing applications.”

The Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies is already investing its technical expertise into the West Midlands region thanks to having secured £1.1m of funding for photonic system demonstrators. This project, jointly funded by Aston University and the European Regional Development Fund is reinforcing the region’s leadership in two recently emerged enabling technologies - fibre lasers and optical bio-nano-sensing - and is providing free photonics advice to business.

The latest European Research Council grant will create new research posts and PhD
opportunities at Aston University to increasingly develop ultra-long fibre and random laser technologies along with new laser sensing technologies.

For more information visit the Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies webpages or download issue 1 of Aston Advances.

Aston 100 - The world's longest laser