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Facebook, Nokia Boost Transatlantic Data Capacity


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Facebook, Nokia Boost Transatlantic Data Capacity

Facebook's expansion into live video and other data-hogging features means it has to squeeze more capacity out of undersea fiber-optic cables.

In a push to deliver more Facebook data to users in Europe and North America, Nokia this week announced record transmission speeds while testing a cable beneath the Atlantic Ocean.

Facebook conceived and planned the test, which used an experimental transmission protocol known as probabilistic constellation shaping, or PCS. The results showed that Nokia could eventually upgrade each fiber strand in its transatlantic cable to support speeds of up to 32 terabits per second in the future. That's more than twice the cable's stated capacity.

While PCS is an experimental technology, it is based on the tried and true QAM signal modulation technique, which powers many wireless and wired data connections, including terrestrial digital TV signals. Applying PCS to undersea cables could decrease the threat of bottlenecks that would otherwise limit Facebook's expansion into live video and other bandwidth-intensive features.

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With greater undersea capacity comes lower costs, too. Even as it seeks to boost transmission rates, Facebook is focused on driving the cost per bit of submarine data transport ever lower, according to the company's global network architect, Stephen Grubb. There's a theorem that describes the maximum transfer limit of any communications channel, called the "Shannon limit," and Grubb said the recent test comes close to reaching it.

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"This field trial with Nokia demonstrates that the scalable optical technology of PCS together with narrow linewidth laser sources can achieve capacities extremely close to the Shannon limit," Grubb said in a statement.

The Nokia test comes as Facebook and other web giants like Google and Microsoft have made massive investments in undersea data cables. Google and Facebook announced a partnership last year to create a link capable of a total of 120 terabits per second across multiple fiber-optic strands.

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