Solitons are waveforms that preserve their shape while propagating, as a result of a balance of dispersion and nonlinearity1,2. Soliton-based data transmission schemes were investigated in the 1980s and showed promise as a way of overcoming the limitations imposed by dispersion of optical fibres. However, these approaches were later abandoned in favour of wavelength-division multiplexing schemes, which are easier to implement and offer improved scalability to higher data rates. Here we show that solitons could make a comeback in optical communications, not as a competitor but as a key element of massively parallel wavelength-division multiplexing. Instead of encoding data on the soliton pulse train itself, we use continuous-wave tones of the associated frequency comb as carriers for communication. Dissipative Kerr solitons (DKSs)3,4 (solitons that rely on a double balance of parametric gain and cavity loss, as well as dispersion and nonlinearity) are generated as continuously circulating pulses in an integrated silicon nitride microresonator5 via four-photon interactions mediated by the Kerr nonlinearity, leading to low-noise, spectrally smooth, broadband optical frequency combs6. We use two interleaved DKS frequency combs to transmit a data stream of more than 50 terabits per second on 179 individual optical carriers that span the entire telecommunication C and L bands (centred around infrared telecommunication wavelengths of 1.55 micrometres). We also demonstrate coherent detection of a wavelength-division multiplexing data stream by using a pair of DKS frequency combs—one as a multi-wavelength light source at the transmitter and the other as the corresponding local oscillator at the receiver. This approach exploits the scalability of microresonator-based DKS frequency comb sources for massively parallel optical communications at both the transmitter and the receiver. Our results demonstrate the potential of these sources to replace the arrays of continuous-wave lasers that are currently used in high-speed communications. In combination with advanced spatial multiplexing schemes7,8 and highly integrated silicon photonic circuits9, DKS frequency combs could bring chip-scale petabit-per-second transceivers into reach.
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This work was supported by the European Research Council (ERC Starting Grant ‘EnTeraPIC’, number 280145), the EU project BigPipes, the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation, the Karlsruhe School of Optics and Photonics (KSOP), and the Helmholtz International Research School for Teratronics (HIRST). P.M.-P. is supported by the Erasmus Mundus doctorate programme Europhotonics (grant number 159224-1-2009-1-FR-ERA MUNDUS-EMJD). We acknowledge financial support by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) through the Collaborative Research Center ‘Wave Phenomena: Analysis and Numerics’ (CRC 1173), project B3 ‘Frequency combs’. Si3N4 devices were fabricated and grown in the Center of MicroNanoTechnology (CMi) at EPFL. EPFL acknowledges support by an ESA PhD fellowship (M.K.) and by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Air Force Material Command, USAF, number FA9550-15-1-0099. M.K. acknowledges funding support from Marie Curie FP7 ITN FACT. We also acknowledge the Swiss National Science Foundation via precoR, Grant No. 161537. This publication was supported by Contract W911NF-11-1-0202 (QuASAR) from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Defense Sciences Office (DSO).
T.J.K. is a co-founder and shareholder of LiGenTec SA, a start-up company that is engaged in making Si3N4 nonlinear photonic chips available via foundry service and is aiming to commercialize frequency channel generators. T.J.K. is a co-inventor of patents owned by Max Planck Society and EPFL in the technical field of the publication.
Reviewer Information Nature thanks V. Torres-Company and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
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Marin-Palomo, P., Kemal, J., Karpov, M. et al. Microresonator-based solitons for massively parallel coherent optical communications. Nature 546, 274–279 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature22387
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