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Researchers have set a new record for the rate of data transfer using a single laser: 26 terabits per second. At those speeds, the contents of nearly 1,000 high-definition DVDs could be sent down an optical fibre in a second. The trick is to use what is known as a "fast Fourier transform" to unpick more than 300 separate colours of light in a laser beam, each encoded with its own string of information.
The technique is described in the journal Nature Photonics. The push for higher data rates in light-based telecommunications technologies has seen a number of significant leaps in recent years. While the earliest optical fibre technologies encoded a string of data as "wiggles" within a single colour of light sent down a fibre, newer approaches have used a number of tricks to increase data rates. Among them is what is known as "orthogonal frequency division multiplexing", which uses a number of lasers to encode different strings of data on different colours of light, all sent through the fibre together. At the receiving end, another set of laser oscillators can be used to pick up these light signals, reversing the process.