|Software & Networks|
A New Era For Fibre
update on 2012-05-13
The need for increased speed and reduced complexity is ever increasing and is often a symbol of technology advancement. Recent developments in optical technology do just that, increase speed and reduce complexity. By Mathew Leej
The fibre optic cable has been around for decades and has come a long way in its development.
The technology has become ever more pervasive and goes hand in hand with high speed data transfer. This used to be the realm of wide bandwidth internet access, currently being rolled out to many people across the globe. However, in late 2009 something else happened with an announcement from Intel.
The announcement was a technology, codenamed ‘Light Peak’, which was a multi-protocol optical cable interconnect.
The technology delivers high bandwidth using optical technology starting at 10 Gb/s, reaching a possible 100 Gb/s by 2020. Consider that USB 3.0 achieves a maximum data tranfer speed of 5 Gb/s, this puts the implications of ‘Light Peak’ into perpective.
‘Light Peak’ or Thunderbolt as it is now called, is already being fitted to an increasing number of computers as an additional port. With a data transfer speed of 10 Gb/s, it would be possible to tranfer a full-length 1,080p movie in less than 30 seconds.
The technology allows for smaller connectors and longer, thinner, and more flexible cables than currently possible. And as said previously, it also supports multiple protocols simultaneously over a single cable. This would allow multiple devices to be connected using the same cable, instead of having a seperate cable for monitors, peripherals, etc.
Reason For Development
With an increasing need for higher bandwidth, ‘Light Peak’ seemed like a obvious development. But the advantages are not just in data transfer speed, but in the technologies acceptance of multiple protocols, simplfing the complexity of multiple cables for multiple purposes. Now, all that is required is one cable with one interconnect for a range of multiple devices, including monitors, disk drives, cameras, and other peripherals devices. To sum up, speed and complexity savings are problems that this technology can solve with great effect.
The amount of media consumed will only increase, and the need for such a cabling solution will also increase with this need.
Multiple Protocol Support
One of the main elements of ‘Light Peak’ is its controller chip. This chip enables protocol switching and supports multiple protocols over a single cable.
In the case of attaching a monitor to a PC, a display cable needs to be plugged into a display connector, but with ‘Light Peak’, the controller chip simply switches to a different protocol enabling multiple devices to be connected to the same port.
Existing electrical cable technology has certain limitations attributed to its electrical characteristics that do not, in the same way, effect optical technology that uses light as its data tranfer mode.
One of the initial design goals for ‘Light Peak’ was low cost. A first step was to design the optical modules to be manufactured passively as prior to this, many optical modules used active assembly. This means that the module is turned on during assembly to make criticial alignments. The thought was for the technology to ultimately be used in many computers and peripheral devices. This would enable cost savings to increase proportionally to devices being sold than optical cabling, for example, those used in data centres.
Another point worth mentioning is that the technologies for optical modules were designed with PC requirements in mind, and not the much stricter requirements of the telecom industry. This, in itself, would allow many of the optical specifications, such as, operating lifetime, temperature ranges, etc, to be relaxed. The relaxation of many of these requirements means that the return on investment for many of the components used, goes up, as what is required from them is relaxed.