RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

Sharper virtual reality soon? Hongkongers develop software to hit fastest data centre connection speeds yet and slash costs

Polytechnic University team’s work with technology firm Huawei could lead to breakthrough for household internet users at 240 gigabits per second over 2km

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 April, 2016, 4:25pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 April, 2016, 11:43pm

Faster, clearer, sharper, cheaper – a team of five Polytechnic University researchers have developed a new optical communications software that boasts the fastest connection speeds recorded to date for data centres.

The research breakthrough could also pave the way for newer forms of virtual reality technology requiring mass transmission of data and make them more easily available to household internet users.

The software, developed by PolyU engineering researchers after more than a year of study in collaboration with technology firm Huawei, allows communication speeds for data centres to reach 240 G bits per second over 2km – a rate that is 24 times the existing speed now offered in the market and at a significantly cheaper cost of HK$4,680 per connection.

Existing technology in the market costs HK$18,720 for every connection.

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The software improves connection speeds as it builds on optical fibre technology suffering from light signal distortion.

Previous efforts focusing on hardware components to address the distortion were expensive and took up vital space at data centres.

However, PolyU researchers understood that distortion fell into patterns and found a way to decode them and attain a clear signal by using only software.

When the connection speed reached 240 G bits per second, the reseachers said, it could support 10,000 people streaming an ultra- high-definition video simultaneously.

Dr Alan Lau Pak-tao, an associate professor at PolyU’s department of electrical engineering, said economic considerations drove the focus on software.

“Fibre connection in a data centre is a very high-volume business,” Lau said. Data centres function as collections of inter-connected computer servers.

“We’re able to identify some patterns and do some processing to undo the distortion,” he added. “That in turn allows us to raise the connection speed.”

Lau said the decision to possibly put the software into commercial use rested with Huawei. He said he was not at liberty to disclose the software’s cost, but both PolyU and Huawei had a stake in the software.

It usually took five years to further develop a research product and put it to commercial use, he said.

While the benefits of the software might not be immediate and apparent to regular household internet users, Lau said faster connection speeds could help ensure smoother, more synchronised video conferencing and allow the practical application of augmented reality in areas such as urban planning and medicine.

Alexander Wai Ping-kong, chair professor of optical communications at PolyU, said although the record connection speed was only achieved in data centres, the software could easily be applied without changing any existing infrastructure in data centres.