Could twisted light fibre be the future of connectivity?

Could twisted light fibre be the future of connectivity?

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New fibre-optic technology could lead to connectivity that is up to 100 times faster than what is possible today by twisting light into a helix-like shape in order to transfer more data, researchers in Australia have stated.

A team from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) have demonstrated the technique, which they claim could be practical and scalable enough to be the future of fibre connectivity.

Current fibre-optic technology, which uses pulses of light to transmit information, is limited to the colour spectrum, which means it only uses a fraction of light's theoretical carrying capacity.

However, the researchers noted that by twisting beams of light into a helix shape similar to that found in DNA, they can take advantage of this unutilised spectrum and greatly increase the data-carrying capacity of light.

While this technique is not new, its practical usage has been restricted until now by the difficulties in encoding and reading this data. However, the team from RMIT believe they have overcome this hurdle through the use of nanotechnology.

Dr Haoran Ren from RMIT's School of Science, co-lead author of the paper, said: "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."

He added that current fibre-optic communications are heading towards a "capacity crunch" as systems struggle to keep up with the ever-increasing demands of big data. Therefore, new solutions will become urgently required as these trends continue.

"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," Dr Ren continued. 

The team believes that its research is far more than just a technical exercise and, having proven the viability of the technology, think it's only a matter of time before such developments become a commercial reality.

Paper co-author Prof Min Gu said: "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."

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