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

An experimental technology from Nokia could expand a submarine cable's capacity by 2.5 times

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.

Facebook's fibers can carry about 13Tbps (bits per second) now. With the experimental technology they recently tested, the fibers could carry 32Tbps, said Kyle Hollasch, Nokia's director of marketing for optical networking. The companies say this is a record.

The new technique, called PCS (probabilistic constellation shaping), gives the network more flexibility to get the most performance out of a particular fiber.

"Every fiber in the ground, everywhere in the world, is different," he said. Its ability to carry data depends on how long it is, the characteristics of the glass it's made of, and other factors.

To send data over that fiber most efficiently, the network needs different settings, like gears, to adjust for those differences. Current equipment has just a few of these "gears" at most. PCS changes that equation because it's like a continuously variable transmission, so it can adjust the network precisely to best use any fiber, Hollasch said.

PCS should be available for installation in fiber networks in three years, according to Nokia. But the company is already making its equipment more efficient, with commercially available gear today that could increase the current connection by about one-third to 17Tbps.

For Facebook, which has invested in several submarine cables and bought fibers on others, higher efficiency is just good business.

"Facebook pays the same for this cable regardless of how much data they put on it. So they might as well put as much as they can," Hollasch said.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?