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Is Keck’s Law Coming to an End?

After decades of exponential growth, fiber-optic capacity may be facing a plateau

14 min read
Is Keck’s Law Coming to an End?
Photo: Sue Tallon

Since 1980, the number of bits per second that can be sent down an optical fiber has increased some 10 millionfold. That’s remarkable even by the standards of late-20th-century electronics. It’s more than the jump in the number of transistors on chips during that same period, as described by Moore’s Law. There ought to be a law here, too. Call it Keck’s Law, in honor of Donald Keck. He’s the coinventor of low-loss optical fiber and has tracked the impressive growth in its capacity. Maybe giving the trend a name of its own will focus attention on one of the world’s most unsung industrial achievements.

Moore’s Law may get all the attention. But it’s the combination of fast electronics and fiber-optic communications that has created “the magic of the network we have today,” according to Pradeep Sindhu, chief technical officer at Juniper Networks. The strongly interacting electron is ideal for speedy switches that can be used in logic and memory. The weakly interacting photon is perfect for carrying signals over long distances. Together they have fomented the technological revolution that continues to shape and define our times.

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Medal of Honor Goes to Microsensor and Systems Pioneer

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3 min read
Photo of a man in a blue jacket in front of a brick wall.
UCLA Samueli School of Engineering

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