Fiber-optic cables have made a big difference in how the world communicates. As fantastic as they are though, they do have their limits. This is why engineers are constantly looking for ways to improve them. Now we learn that recent research may have done just that. The research could lead to smaller fiber optic cables capable of handling a lot more data.

Rock West Solutions, a California company that helps develop sensors and signal processing for the commercial sector, explains that the biggest challenge in the fiber-optic environment is separating incoming and outgoing traffic. It all boils down to how data is transferred in a fiber-optic cable.

Light Rather Than Electricity

There are multiple ways to carry data across networks. The most common is electricity. Take your average landline telephone, for example. A low voltage current runs through the telephone lines to carry conversations from one location to another. In a fiber-optic cable, information is carried via light waves. This presents a unique problem.

In a phone cable, it is easy to separate incoming and outgoing data simply by feeding two separate lines. You cannot do that with fiber-optic cables and still get the volume you want. A fiber-optic cable is essentially a tunnel through which light passes. Creating individual tunnels to process multiple signals would be impractical.

Instead, fiber-optic cables utilize special sensors that rely on magnetic fields to separate incoming and outgoing light streams. If those streams were not separated, incoming light would return to the laser producing outgoing light and the signal would be jumbled.

Current filtering technology works very well, but it is not perfect. Thus, there is always some noise with fiber-optic signals. That is where the research becomes important.

Filtering Out the Noise

Rock West explains that noise in a given signal is any unwanted data. It doesn’t have to be audio in nature. Incoming light interfering with outgoing light in a fiber-optic cable is considered noise. The goal of signal processing is to remove as much of that noise as possible. That’s what engineers at Michigan Technological University (MTU) and the Argonne National Laboratory are working on.

They believe they’ve come up with a way to better process light signals to reduce the amount of noise, thereby making each incoming and outgoing signal more clear. They think that perfecting their new filters could make it possible to significantly reduce the size of fiber-optic cables.

What would that mean practically? It would mean more data flowing through a smaller cable. And if we kept the cables the same size, it would allow us to scale up the amount of data we can transfer without necessarily having to build more infrastructure. The end result is a faster internet with higher data loads, less latency, and faster upload and download times.

 The Importance of Signal Processing

Improving fiber-optic signal processing likely doesn’t mean much to the average computer user. But the fact is that the importance of signal processing cannot be understated. In a world wholly dependent on digital information and worldwide networks, it is more important than ever that we be able to process all sorts of data signals more efficiently and accurately.

The world is destined to only become more reliant on digital data moving forward. As such, improving fiber-optic cables is a necessity. Here’s hoping the MTU research proves to be everything advertised. It could make fiber-optic data transfers exponentially better.

In the meantime, companies like Rock West Solutions will continue working on the signal processing technologies of the future. They will be making digital data ever more valuable along the way.

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