A new system of data transmission using twisted beams of light at ultra-high speeds — capable of transmitting up to 2.56 terabits per second, has been developed by a team of researchers from the U.S., China, Israel, and Pakistan.
For perspective, broadband cable at its best does about 30 megabits per second. This new twisted-light system “transmits more than 85,000 times more data per second.”
The potential applications for this technology include building high-speed satellite communication links, short free-space terrestrial links, or ultra-high speed internet service.
“You’re able to do things with light that you can’t do with electricity,” said Alan Willner, electrical engineering professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the corresponding author of an article about the research that was published in Nature Photonics on June 24. “That’s the beauty of light; it’s a bunch of photons that can be manipulated in many different ways at very high speed.”
The researchers used “beam-twisting ‘phase holograms’ to manipulate eight beams of light so that each one twisted in a DNA-like helical shape as it propagated in free space. Each of the beams had its own individual twist and can be encoded with ‘1’ and ‘0’ data bits, making each an independent data stream — much like separate channels on your radio.”
The researchers demonstrated this by transmitting the data over open space in the lab, in a simulation of the kind of communications that might happen between satellites in space.
The researchers think that the next step will be to explore how this technology could be adapted to use in fiber optics, like the ones used by many Internet service providers.
“We didn’t invent the twisting of light, but we took the concept and ramped it up to a terabit-per-second,” Willner said.
The research team included Jian Wang, Jeng-Yuan Yang, Irfan M. Fazal, Nisar Ahmed, Yan Yan, Hao Huang, Yongxiong Ren and Yang Yue from USC; Samuel Dolinar from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and Moshe Tur from Tel Aviv University.
The lead author of the study, Jian Wang, left the USC after the completion of this research, to become a professor at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China.
The Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funded the research under their InPho (Information in a Photon) program.