Optical fibre gets speed boost with integrated electronic properties

Faster telecommunications networks are on the way with researchers heralding an important step towards integrating fibre optics with semiconductors.

A collaborative effort between Southampton University and Penn State in the US has led to the development of potentially revolutionary fibre optic materials.

Up until now, one of the problems with sending vast amounts of data hurtling down optical fibres is that once they reach the semiconductor based electronics they bottleneck, leading to a slow down.  This is a problem that many research labs are currently trying to fix.

While the light can speed its way down an optical cable, for instance in a cross-Atlantic video call, the information has to be converted from the fibre cable to conventional electronics. In changing the light signal into a working, viewable image, problems crop up like connecting a round fibre to a flat semiconductor.

Rather than continuing with the square peg in round hole approach the research team attempted to create an optical fibre that already incorporates semi properties.

Essentially, the team has incorporated the necessary junction into the fibre, which is done by depositing tiny layers of semiconducting materials, under high pressure, into holes in the optical fibres.

According to the team, this opens up possibilities for a range of applications, for example with photovoltaic solar cells. Cost benefits could be there too.

Developments are at initial stages so it will be interesting to see if there are major headaches with commercialisation.

If not, the integrated electronic properties could well help in creating even faster and cheaper communications in the future.