Say goodbye to slow internet: Fibre optic broadband could become 100 times faster

Fibre optic cables comprise of small tubes as thin as a human hair which are reflective on the inside. Information is transferred by sending flashes or pulses of coloured light, at the speed of light, through the tubes which bounce off the reflective walls and along the cable. Broadband fibre-optics thus carry information on pulses of light. The flashes of data are then received and interpreted at the other end. But the way the light is encoded at one end and processed at the other affects data speeds.

Only a fraction of light’s actual capacity of carrying data on the colour spectrum is currently used in fibre-optic communications. Advanced technology was developed to increase bandwidth by using the oscillation, or shape, of light waves invisible to the human eye.

A group of researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), based in Melbourne, Australia claim that they have found a way to decode twisted light. Fibre optic cables currently use visible light that travels either horizontally or vertically. A spiral method of twisting light creates a third dimension less restrictive than previous methods and will allow far more data to be transmitted through the cables.

This pioneering new technology will allow super-fast Internet by harnessing twisted light beams to carry more data and process it faster. This latest technology, at the cutting edge of optical communications, carries data on light waves that have been twisted into a spiral, known as light in a state of orbital angular momentum, or OAM to increase their capacity.

This method uses light waves that have been twisted into a spiral to increase the level of ‘orbital angular momentum’ (OAM), or spin. RMIT researchers claim that the method could be applied to existing telecommunications networks and significantly enhance efficiency. Consequently, by harnessing twisted light beams, fibre optic broadband will carry more data, process it more proficiently and become 100 times faster than current broadband speeds.

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The world-first nanophotonic device, a minuscule reader or receptor analyses the ‘orbital angular momentum’ (OAM), or spin of the light travelling through the fibre optic cables and allows more varieties of light to be analysed and processed. Professor Min Gu, previously from RMIT University, compares the spin to the double helix spiral of DNA and states that: “The more you can use angular momentum the more information you can carry. We could produce the first chip that could detect this twisting and display it for mobile application.”

Dr Haoran Ren, who is a co-lead author of a paper published in Nature Communications from RMIT’s School of Science, said the tiny device they have built for reading twisted light is the missing key required to unlock super-fast, ultra-broadband communications.

Ren says that “Present-day optical communications are heading towards a ‘capacity crunch’ as they fail to keep up with the ever-increasing demands of Big Data. What we’ve managed to do is accurately transmit data via light at its highest capacity in a way that will allow us to massively increase our bandwidth.” “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,” Ren said.

Professor Min Gu says that “Our OAM nano-electronic detector is like an ‘eye’ that can ‘see’ information carried by twisted light and decode it to be understood by electronics. This technology’s high performance, low cost and tiny size makes it a viable application for the next generation of broadband optical communications. To do this previously would require a machine the size of a table, which is completely impractical for telecommunications. By using ultrathin topological nanosheets measuring a fraction of a millimetre, our invention does this job better and fits on the end of an optical fibre.”

Gu said the detector can also be used to receive quantum information sent via twisting light, meaning it “will unlock the full potential of twisted light for future optical and quantum communications”.

It is significant that said the materials used in the device are compatible with silicon-based materials used in most technology, making it easy to scale up for industry applications.

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