Australian scientists have used genome analysis tools to create a patented technology to investigate the fate of the laser beams zapping through the optical fibres that connect cities.
Their ideas have broken the back of a communications industry problem - how to identify the causes of noise in these optical cables that form a key part of the backbone of the Internet.
The breakthrough makes use of a device that has been created by NICTA engineers for a few thousand dollars.
It can do a job, that today would cost $100,000 plus, and require a broad range of different test equipment.
Moreover, it will allow phone companies to confidently increase the speed ratings on long haul optical fibres - from 10 gigabits per second to 40 gigabits per second or more without losing data in the noise in line.
NICTA principal researcher, Trevor Anderson, who is based at the Victorian lab and directs the Managing and Monitoring the Internet Project (MAMI), said the team has developed a way of presenting an optical signal as a two dimensional image.
"We thought that it would allow us to recognise the 'fingerprint' of the various kinds of optical noise that can interfere with the signal," he said.
"But we didn't know how to analyse the image. Fortunately in the next door laboratory NICTA has a team of geneticists analysing vast lengths of genetic code to find patterns of gene sequences that would indicate a tumour.
"Dr Adam Kowalczyk looked at our problem and laughed."
Dr Kowalczyk thought the problem was easy, adding that "biology is so much more complex."
He told Anderson: "We have to identify cancer subtypes using a handful of noisy examples to learn from rather than the thousands that are available to you."
As a result Dr Kowalczyk said "let's try our algorithms on your data."
Anderson said the result is a new device known as a multi-impairment monitor. And it can identify the distinct visual patterns created by the common forms of noise and distortion in optical fibres.
The six most common sources of impairments are: optical amplifier noise; too much dispersion as the laser beam travels down the fibre; afibre that's not quite symmetric - leading to more dispersion of the signal; power levels that are too high; interference from adjacent channels and; unwanted reflections.
"The current tools available in the marketplace only count the errors in the data, telling the operator a problem exists but not what that problem is, where the problem is or what caused it," Anderson said.
"Our device can already identify the top four sources of noise and we expect to be able to do all six."