Australian scientists believe they are on the verge of a breakthrough in optical circuitry that may improve the speed of the internet by a factor of 1000.
The Centre for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems, a research consortium of five universities, is trying to create a photonic chip that processes optical signals free of slow, silicon electronics.
Optical-signal processing allows unprecedented bandwidth - one optical fibre has a capacity of hundreds of terabits a second. At this speed, a high-definition movie could be downloaded in a fraction of a second, rather than the hours it takes with current technology.
Today, our international internet links are bedevilled by unavoidable lag - the time it takes for data to travel from the US to a user's PC in Australia.
For most of its journey, the data travels at the speed of light along optical fibres. But each time the information stream is switched, amplified, reprocessed or regenerated, it requires silicon-based electronics, which are much slower.
These bottlenecks stand in the way of a 1000-fold increase in the practical speed of the internet, the centre's researchers say. But they could be removed with optical computing, which uses light to switch light, without electronic interference.