Fiber optic technology is the holy grail of high-speed, long-distance telecommunications. Still, with the continuing exponential growth of internet traffic, researchers are warning of a capacity crunch. However, researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Maryland have shown how quantum-enhanced receivers could play a critical role in addressing this challenge. The scientists developed a method to enhance receivers based on quantum physics properties to dramatically increase network performance while significantly reducing the error bit rate (EBR) and energy consumption.
Fiber optic technology relies on receivers to detect optical signals and convert them into electrical signals. The conventional detection process, largely as a result of random light fluctuations, produces “shot noise,” which decreases detection ability and increases EBR. To accommodate this problem, signals must continually be amplified as pulsating light becomes weaker along the optic cable, but there is a limit to maintaining adequate amplification when signals become barely perceptible.
Quantum-enhanced receivers that process up to two bits of classical information and can overcome the shot noise have been demonstrated to improve detection accuracy in laboratory environments. In these and other quantum receivers, a separate reference beam with a single-photon detection feedback is used so the reference pulse eventually cancels out the input signal to eliminate the shot noise.
The researchers’ enhanced receiver, however, can decode as many as four bits per pulse, because it does a better job in distinguishing among different input states. To accomplish more efficient detection, they developed a modulation method and implemented a feedback algorithm that takes advantage of the exact times of single photon detection. Still, no single measurement is perfect, but the new “holistically” designed communication system yields increasingly more accurate results on average.