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Faster Polymer Plastic Cables? Not So Fast!

Faster Polymer Plastic Cables? Not So Fast - AnD Cable Management Blog

Just about a year ago a group from MIT demonstrated a polymer plastic cable the size of a human hair that could transmit data faster than copper – much faster. 

How fast? Well, they recorded speeds of more than 100 gigabits per second! So where is this new technology and where is it headed? Well, here are some answers for you.

Faster Polymer Plastic Cables? Not So Fast - AnD Cable Management Blog
MIT demonstrated a plastic polymer cable the size of a human hair. Photo: MIT, https://news.mit.edu/2021/data-transfer-system-silicon-0224

The Need for Speed

First, perhaps we need to qualify what this speed is, and why computers and data centers need it. 

The first big deal is that these cables act like copper – they can directly connect devices without the need to reformat data. While standard fiber cables are faster, they require a converter to change light signals to electrical signals at each end of the connection. 

Of course, there are a lot of immediate uses for faster cables like these, including in data centers. Artificial intelligence applications like self-driving cars, manufacturing, and countless other applications where data provided as close to “real-time” as possible makes a huge difference. 

But of course, as with all such applications, speed is not the only factor.

Distance

At the moment in a laboratory setting, these cables are only good for short distances, not long ones. That doesn’t mean researchers are not confident in the impact these cables can have. 

Think of a polymer plastic cable that is both durable and lightweight, and can transmit terabits of data over a meter or beyond? Theoretically, this is the possibility, with the idea that such cables could replace USB and even the faster USB-C cables. 

Even at shorter lengths, such cables could be exceptionally useful for transferring data between more than one chip inside a device. The thinner fibers could be used to revolutionize these applications as well, making even smaller and more efficient devices possible. 

We Have the Power

The problem as it currently exists is that transferring data through copper cables consumes more and more power, to the point of diminishing returns, and such transfer generates heat – a lot of heat that must be dissipated and can actually cause damage to cables. 

The fiber optic alternative is not always compatible with silicon chips without the light to electronic transfer mentioned above. The idea behind polymer plastic is to save energy, generate less heat, and still allow for compact connections. 

If this is such a great idea, why is it not on the market yet?

From Laboratory To Market

To transfer such technology from the lab to the market takes a lot of work and requires some potential changes. First, the technology needs to be tested and perfected at a higher level. Since the concept has been established, other labs are now working on it as well, and this could be the fastest part of the process. 

But there is more:

  • New standards would have to be developed for IEEE, established, and agreed upon
  • Potentially, new connectors would need to be created for these cables to interface with other chips and other devices
  • The manufacture of new cables needs to be established at scale before they can become commonly used in any application.
  • A supply chain or the use of existing ones must be established to get cables from the plant to the end-user.

Does this sound like a lot? It is, but it has been done before. The question is, what do those who are building data centers – and would use these cables on a regular basis – think?

The Future is Now

“The need for speed has never been so great,” Bill Lambert, a data center engineer told us. “Ten years ago, no one would even have been talking about devices that would need this kind of speed. We would have told you we would never need that capacity.”

And he’s right. Many of the devices we now use every day, and their speeds would have been unimaginable before, let alone the amount of data we use. But the more we look at the uses for real-time data, the faster we need to get that information from one place to another. 

“It’s like the work from anywhere revolution,” he told us. “The last two years have totally changed what data transfer and speed look like, inside and outside of data centers. It’s a sure bet that the next few will revolutionize these ideas again.”

In an ever-changing field where speed and data matter more than ever, science has just begun to catch up with what we need. And we’re lucky enough to be a part of it. 

Have a question about updating the infrastructure in your current data center or want to learn more about building the infrastructure in a new one? Contact us here at AnD Cable Products. We have everything from the cable management you need to remote monitoring and more. 

We’re glad to be your partners going forward to tomorrow and beyond. 

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About the Author

Louis Chompff - Founder, AnD Cable Products, Rack and Cable ManagementLouis Chompff – Founder & Managing Director, AnD Cable Products
Louis established AnD Cable Products – Intelligently Designed Cable Management in 1989. Prior to this he enjoyed a 20+ year career with a leading global telecommunications company in a variety of senior data management positions. Louis is an enthusiastic inventor who designed, patented and brought to market his innovative Zero U cable management racks and Unitag cable labels, both of which have become industry-leading network cable management products. AnD Cable Products only offer products that are intelligently designed, increase efficiency, are durable and reliable, re-usable, easy to use or reduce equipment costs. He is the principal author of the Cable Management Blog, where you can find network cable management ideas, server rack cabling techniques and rack space saving tips, data center trends, latest innovations and more.
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