DARPA starts race for terabit optical routers

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded contracts worth $6.3 million to a second team of researchers in its quest for a 100-Tbps, all-optical router.

The team, headed by the University of California at Santa Barbara, will push the limits of optical devices that can be integrated on a single chip board. The goal of DARPA's four-year Label Switched Optical Router program (LASOR) is a 100-fold increase in routing speeds.

A team led by Lucent Technologies Inc. of Murray Hill, N.J., received DARPA contracts last month to work on similar technology (April 22 GCN coverage).

More digital traffic these days is being carried in photons over fiber-optic cables. But conventional routers must convert these optical signals to electronic form for switching, then back again for transport. All-optical routers now in early development will skip the conversion, make networks faster and consume less power.

DARPA is funding the race for practical, all-optical routers that can operate at speeds up to 100 Tbps. Lucent's Integrated Router Interconnected Spectrally program is developing a chip to optimize traffic, handling the routing and scheduling of packets, and switching them at speeds less than a nanosecond.

The LASOR team's tunable, all-optical wavelength converter will direct packets through the router based on the light's wavelength, or color. The resulting product would reduce to a single router line card the functions of a current router occupying an entire 7-foot equipment rack.

A second phase of development work for LASOR could receive an additional $9.5 million in funding.

Other members of the LASOR team are Agility Communications Inc. of Santa Barbara, Calif.; Calient Networks Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and JDS Uniphase Corp., all of San Jose, Calif.; and Stanford University of Palo Alto, Calif.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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