A team of researchers from the University of Sydney and Monash University have led a breakthrough in optical fibre network technology.

The researchers have invented a new energy-efficient method of increasing data capacity of optical networks to the point where all the world’s internet traffic could travel on a single fibre.

The breakthrough uses commercial components manufactured in Australia to optimise the efficiency of existing optical fibre networks, and could potentially dramatically boost the overall performance of networks such as the National Broadband Network, while reducing operational costs.

The research team, working through the Centre of Excellence for Ultrahigh Bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS), re-programmed a network component to work with data encoding technology that makes more efficient use of available data channels.

The team then transmitted a signal of 10 terabits per second over 850 kilometres. As a rough comparison, ADSL 2+ speeds are commonly around six megabits per second.

Professor Aruthur Lowery, from the Monash Department of Elecritcal and Computer Systems, said that by using the switch, signals could squeeze into gaps in the data traffic flows around the large optical-ring networks between cities.

"Importantly, new traffic can be squeezed into the fibre at any location and added to any ‘lane’ of the fibre freeway even between existing lanes. Our approach is so flexible, network operators could adjust capacity to respond to increased demand, for example from people following big sport events like the Olympics," Professor Lowery said.

The technology would maximise existing infrastructure, allowing it to cope with the rising demand for internet, which is expected to increase 1000-fold over the next decade.

"Rather than laying hundreds of new parallel optical fibres to boost network capacity, we can make more efficient use of the existing network by tweaking the way data is transmitted over long distances," Professor Lowery said.

"The NBN is effectively building a data road to every single house in Australia. We've found a way to make the data highways between cities and countries, far more efficient, with minimal extra investment."

The team’s findings were presented at the world’s largest optical communications conference, Optical Fiber Communications (OFC), in California last week.