AT&T, Digital Equipment and MIT team up to build communications network

March 03, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- AT&T has teamed up with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Digital Equipment Corp. to build a communications network far faster than current fiber optics.

The experimental network, which is being built with an $8.4 million grant from the Pentagon and was announced yesterday, could make it far cheaper than with current fiber-optic technology to transmit television images, book-length computer files and even entire libraries in the blink of an eye.

Local and long-distance companies already use fiber optics through much of their networks, making it possible to send up to 2.5 billion bits of data a second in the form of light pulses that fly down a single hair-thin strand of glass.

As fast as networks have become, however, they are constrained because information must be repeatedly converted from the electrical pulses that a computer can understand into light pulses that travel down an optical fiber, and then must be turned back into electrical pulses.

When computers communicate over long distances, this conversion process may occur several times because the light signals must be boosted at regular intervals.

The network, which will initially link labs at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., with those of Digital Equipment in nearby Littleton, eliminates this translation by communicating in light pulses from end to end.

As envisioned, the network would enable a single optical fiber to carry several "channels" of data, with each channel transmitting as much as 10 billion bits of data a second. That would equate to transmitting a two-hour movie or an entire set of encyclopedias -- including the pictures -- in 10 seconds.

If the technology proves successful, it could serve as a component of the information "superhighway" advocated by Vice President Al Gore.

American Telephone & Telegraph Co. has long had an active program in developing optical switches that process light signals much as a computer processes electrical pulses.

Digital Equipment will bring its expertise in networking technologies; MIT will try to assemble the elements into a coherent network.

The network, to be built over the next two years, is intended to serve as both a demonstration of an all-optical approach and as a test-bed for specific equipment and applications.

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