Twisted Fibre

Fibre optic light breakthrough could make internet 100 times faster

The demand for faster Internet speeds now and in the future is a given, specifically when considering the popularity of streaming services such as Netflix and the explosion of the Internet of things. Specifically, with the increasing trend to utilise big data sets to systematically extract and analyse information, faster Internet and more broadband are in demand. Thanks to the latest fibre optic technology, for some fortunate users, broadband speeds could soon be significantly faster than anything today.

Researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia, developed a nanophotonic device that can encode more data, and process it incredibly fast using a special form of ‘twisted’ light. The technology comprises a miniscule detector which replaces current readers as big as ‘dining tables’.

This new development in fibre optics involves detecting light that has been twisted which could result in Internet speeds up to 100 times faster. The scientists, who published the results in the journal Nature Communications, indicate that the technology can be used to upgrade existing networks and significantly boost efficiency.

Existing broadband fibre optics carry information on pulses at the speed of light, but the encoding and decoding of data affects data speeds. Fibre optic cables transmit information as pulses of light, but it can only be stored through the colour of the light consisting of horizontal or vertical waves. However, by twisting light into a spiral, a third dimension of light to carry information is created. This is referred to as the level of orbital angular momentum, or spin. Min Gu from RMIT states: “It’s like DNA, if you look at the double helix spiral,” “The more you can use angular momentum the more information you can carry.”

The technology thus uses the oscillation, or shape, of light waves to encode data by making use of light invisible to the naked eye thereby increasing bandwidth. The light waves twisted into a spiral is known as light in a state of orbital angular momentum (OAM). According to Gu, the detector can also be used to receive quantum information sent via twisting light, meaning it could have applications in a whole range of cutting-edge quantum communications and quantum computing research.

While researchers in the US had created a fibre that could twist light previously, Gu’s team is the first to create a detector that can read the information it holds. “We could produce the first chip that could detect this twisting and display it for mobile application,” Gu said. The nanophotonic device can encode more data, and process it incredibly fast using a special form of ‘twisted’ light to unlock super-fast, ultra-broadband communications.

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The nanophotonic device is required to overcome the “capacity crunch” of current fibre optic technology, which according to Dr Haoran Ren from RMIT’s School of Science, co-lead author of the paper, “fail to keep up with the ever-increasing demands of Big Data.” Ren said, “Our miniature OAM nano-electronic detector is designed to separate different OAM light states in a continuous order and to decode the information carried by twisted light.” Gu also estimates that the nano-electronic device will unlock the full potential of twisted light for future optical and quantum communications.”

Prof Min Gu from RMIT indicated that the technology would be compatible with existing silicon-based materials and can thus be applied to broadband networks. “This technology’s high performance, low cost and tiny size makes it a viable application for the next generation of broadband optical communications,” he said. He further stated that “It fits the scale of existing fibre technology and could be applied to increase the bandwidth, or potentially the processing speed, of that fibre by over 100 times within the next couple of years. This easy scalability and the massive impact it will have on telecommunications is what’s so exciting.” The OAM nano-electronic detector can be compared to an ‘eye’ that can ‘see’ information carried by twisted light and decode it to be understood by electronics. Gu said that this technology’s high performance, low cost and tiny size makes it a viable application for the next generation of broadband optical communications.

Despite the possibility that the technology could be used to upgrade fibre optic networks, the use of fibre optics instead of copper wire is still contentious. Many households receive the cheaper option of fibre to the node which produces slower speed. With fibre to the node, optic fibre cable only runs as far as a central point in the neighbourhood, and copper wire connects that node to each home.

An interesting fact is that original ADSL connections use an average of 2.5km of copper wire per connection, fibre to the node uses 500 metres, fibre to the curb uses 30 metres, and fibre-to-the-premises uses none. In south Africa, fibre optic technology offers a viable alternative specifically since it is prone to recurring copper theft.

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