Optical fibers transmit data in the form of light pulses, and they are becoming a go-to solution for transmitting data thousands of miles at incredible speeds. Proponents would have you believe they are the apex of modern telecommunications technology. However, while their sheer speed is unmatched, their capacity is limited.

The limitation is physical. The light pulses are lined up one after another in the fiber, and they require a minimum space between them to prevent interference. The necessary byproduct is unused, empty space.

Two scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne think they have found a way to address the limitation problem. Camille Brès and Luc Thévenaz have developed a method for fitting pulses together within the fibers, thereby reducing the space between pulses, making it possible to use all the potential in an optical fiber. They say they can achieve a 10-fold increase in throughput in telecommunications systems using fiber optics.

“Since it appeared in the 1970s, the data capacity of fiber optics has increased by a factor of 10 every four years, driven by a constant stream of new technologies,” said Brès, of the Photonics Systems Laboratory (PHOSL). “But for the last few years, we’ve reached a bottleneck, and scientists all over the world are trying to break through.”

There have been other approaches to this problem in the past, but those solutions have come with the costly burden of needing to replace existing infrastructure. EPFL said one strength of this technique is that only transmitters would need to be changed, not the cables, so the cost to upgrade networks would be relatively low.

Of course, with cabling being electrical contractors’ bread and butter, this development might be written off. However, with lower upfront costs, more facility owners would be inclined to invest in upgrades, seeing a much greater return on investment, and electrical and low-voltage contractors would be able to get in and get out without the need to pull cable. If this EPFL-developed solution catches on, contractors could find themselves bidding to replace a lot of components.