How much can a fiber carry? Facebook and Nokia are pushing it


Facebook and Nokia have found a way to push a lot more data through a submarine cable across the Atlantic, which could help the social network keep up with the growth of video and virtual reality.

On a 5,500-kilometer (3,400-mile) cable between Ireland and New York, the companies tested a new technique developed at Nokia Bell Labs for increasing the efficiency of fiber-optic cables. They say it comes close to the absolute limit for sending bits over a fiber.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said VR is the future of social media. If it is, then the networks that link consumers and data centers will have more data than ever to carry. Higher resolution video also is increasing the burden on networks. For example, Netflix recommends subscribers have at least a 5Mbps broadband connection to stream HD video and 25Mbps for Ultra HD (4K) streams.

The good thing about fiber-optic networks is that new equipment on each end of a link can boost its capacity far beyond what was available when the cable was laid. Nokia recently tested new technology on a pair of fibers Facebook uses on the AEConnect cable across the Atlantic. It increased the capacity of that fiber pair by about 2.5 times.

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