Chips Enable Optical-based Quality Control at Internet Hubs, Speeding Data Transfers

Achievement date: 

New chips can speed data through the Internet’s hubs by checking the quality of a data stream while keeping it in an optical networking layer, as demonstrated by a research team at the University of Arizona and Columbia University. The work was supported by the Center for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) with headquarters at the University of Arizona.


The chips can ease data passage through internet exchange points, the hubs where networks from service providers and carriers come together to relay data from any provider to any customer. Data might pass through several hubs, and reducing the time lost at the exchange points can facilitate high-bandwidth applications, such as a doctor performing a real-time medical procedure on a distant patient using video feeds and robotics. 


Internet exchange points are the airports and train stations of online commerce and information, and like those travel hubs, can be a traffic bottleneck. When data is exchanged between two provider networks, each packet is sent through large routers on both sides of the exchange to verify signal quality. The routers ensure that data flows meet service-level agreements in a process that adds time, cost, and energy demands.

The CIAN scientists showed that using new software-defined controls, signals can be sent across two domains with the optical chips monitoring performance and signal quality, while also responding to signal-quality failures. The optical performance-monitoring technology, developed within CIAN, is fabricated on a silicon photonic chip that can be implemented in large arrays at low cost for monitoring on different optical wavelengths.