IBM has successfully demonstrated a new computer chip that can transfer data using multi-coloured light, enabling it to send 100 gigbits of data per second, which could revolutionise how quickly data is transferred to the cloud.
Silicon photonics is a new emerging technology that enables silicon chips to make use of pulses of light rather than electronic signals over wires to move data at much faster speeds and longer distances that ever before.
IBM demonstrated that it was possible to simultaneously transfer and receive data in the form of four distinct laser colours of infrared light travelling within a single fibre optic line, which is known as "multiplexing", where each coloured light sent 25gbps on its own.
Sending data using light rather than the copper wires used in servers and data centres clearly has a lot of benefits, but so far it has been very expensive and has only been used for big jobs, such as connecting computers in different cities and continents.
Being able to send 100Gbps of data is equivalent to sending half of a HD movie from a Blu-ray disc per second, and IBM's new chip would in theory make it possible for data to be transferred much faster and used for many commercial purposes, including making services like Google, Facebook, Spotify and Microsoft Office Online work much faster.
It would also cut the cost of fibre optics in data centres by roughly 50%.
"Multiplexing four wavelengths into one optical fiber means that you can carry four times as much data per fiber, and therefore will need four times less fiber in your interconnect system," Will Green, manager of IBM Research's Silicon Photonics Group told CNET.
"This fact translates into an additional system-level cost savings for the data-center application on the order of two times on the cost of installed fiber."
IBM has been researching silicon photonics for over a decade, and hopes that apart from increasing data speeds, fibre optic lines could be used to connect components within a computer to help processors perform faster, but this is still many years away.
"Making silicon photonics technology ready for widespread commercial use will help the semiconductor industry keep pace with ever-growing demands in computing power driven by Big Data and cloud services," said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director of IBM Research.
"Just as fiber optics revolutionised the telecommunications industry by speeding up the flow of data – bringing enormous benefits to consumers – we're excited about the potential of replacing electric signals with pulses of light."