Researchers at Kansas University recently received a patent on technology that could save giant phone companies like Sprint billions in infrastructure costs.
Officials with KU's Information and Telecommunication Technology Center announced this week that researchers Chris Allen, Ken Demarest and Ron Hui have been awarded a U.S. patent for technology that will allow phone companies to send more data through fiber-optic lines.
The research was done in conjunction with Overland Park-based Sprint as part of a continuing relationship the telecommunications giant has with the KU center. It marks the third patent the university has received as a result of research funded by Sprint. Victor Frost, director of the center, said the project should pay off.
"I think this one has the most potential to become a commercialization success of all the ones that we have done so far," Frost said. "There's no question the technology will be significant for the industry. It is just a question of when."
The technology addresses a problem called polarization-mode dispersion, or PMD as it is known in the industry. PMD occurs when telecommunications companies try to send data through fiber-optic networks at excessive rates of speed, and the data becomes corrupted.
The KU center created a "compensator" that reduces PMD's effects. Lead researcher Allen said the technology should allow telecommunications companies to send data through their fiber-optic systems at speeds roughly four times percent faster than current levels.
Allen said the increased speed may result in improved uses for the Internet, such as greater capability to send high-definition video and data. But its biggest benefit may be economic.
"Ultimately cost of service may go down because the telecommunication companies will be operating their systems more efficiently," Allen said. "The common theme in the industry is everyone wants to figure out how to get more data through their fiber."
That's what has Sprint officials excited, said Doug Richards, a staff member at Sprint's Technology Planning and Integration division.
"Everything we price has to do with how cost-efficiently we can transport data across the core of our networks," Richards said. "With technology like this, it looks like we can be very competitive in that game."
Richards said in Sprint's case the technology was not yet needed because its network is able to handle PMD problems at its current speed. But as usage increases and fiber-optic systems are asked to carry more data, a new sort of PMD solution will be required. Without it, Richards said, companies may be forced to install additional lines of fiber-optic cable, a process that could cost billions.
"When you have to retrench and lay new fiber, that can be expensive beyond belief," Richards said.
Neither Richards nor Allen could predict when telecommunication companies would need to start using the new technology, but both said it would be a matter of a few years rather than a few months.
KU assigned the patent rights to Sprint. Richards said Sprint was exploring its options for licensing the technology to telecommunications manufacturers, who could begin building the compensator devices to sell to the industry when they are needed. KU would receive royalties off the technology if it were manufactured, but Frost said it was too early to know how much money it could produce for the university.