Photonics Speeds Data Handling

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2005-01-17 Print this article Print

The last few months of 2004 saw notable progress toward the challenging goal of all-optical data switching.

The last few months of 2004 saw notable progress toward the challenging goal of all-optical data switching. By eliminating costly and time-consuming conversion between electronic and photonic signaling, all-optical hardware promises data-handling rates of 100 terabits per second before the end of this decade.

Current optical switches include Lucent Technologies WaveStar LambdaRouter, a microelectromechanical system using tiltable mirrors about the size of the eye in a sewing needle. Even these, however, look clumsy compared with the fully photonic approaches being explored by researchers including Michal Lipson, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Cornell University.

Click here to read about how Jazz at Lincoln Center is using Free Space Optics for high-speed LAN between buildings.
As reported late last year in the journal Nature, Lipsons Cornell Nanophotonics Group has demonstrated a device in which one light signal controls the passage of another, using resonance effects in a silicon ring only 10 microns across.

Other work in photonic switching during 2004 included progress toward building three-dimensional photonic crystals, now being independently developed by teams at both MIT and Kyoto University, that emit and control light emissions and properties such as the polarization of the wave, enabling precise routing of signals without mechanical moving parts.

MITs process may yield communication components in two to three years, while Kyotos process may yield more fully integrated components in five to 10 years.

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Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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