EECS faculty member Vincent Chan, the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has demonstrated with his research team including EECS faculty member Muriel Médard, a new way of organizing optical networks that, in most cases, would eliminate the inefficient switching from optical data flow to electrical signals and back. The gains could result in an Internet from 100 to 1000 times faster and more efficient.
As reported by the MIT News Office's June 28, 2010, article entitled "An Internet 100 times as fast":
"One of the reasons that optical data transmission is so efficient is that different wavelengths of light loaded with different information can travel over the same fiber. But problems arise when optical signals coming from different directions reach a router at the same time. Converting them to electrical signals allows the router to store them in memory until it can get to them. The wait may be a matter of milliseconds, but there’s no cost-effective way to hold an optical signal still for even that short a time.
Chan’s approach, called “flow switching,” solves this problem in a different way. Between locations that exchange large volumes of data — say, Los Angeles and New York City — flow switching would establish a dedicated path across the network. For certain wavelengths of light, routers along that path would accept signals coming in from only one direction and send them off in only one direction. Since there’s no possibility of signals arriving from multiple directions, there’s never a need to store them in memory."
MIT News Office, June 28, 2010 article: An Internet 100 times as fast
Optical Flow Switching (pdf)