Twisted light could mean faster internet speeds

Sunday, 28 October, 2018

New research published in the journal Nature Communications has revealed an astonishing development in fibre optics that could make internet speeds up to a hundred times faster.

Currently, fibre optics use pulses of light to transmit information. But that information, at present can only be stored through the colour of the light and whether the wave is horizontal or vertical.

The scientists conducting the research have shown that by twisting the light into a spiral, they can, in essence, create a third dimension for light to carry information.

Let’s get technical. The twisting of light involves something called orbital angular momentum, or OAM. It’s possible to give light what’s called a helical wavefront, which effectively twists it, encoding information in the properties of the resulting emissions.

Crucially, the scientists argue, it is now possible to twist beams of light without causing them to interfere with each other. This allows more data to be squeezed down a glass fibre line.

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.

- Min Gu: Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, Australia

Previous research in the US has created fibre that could be twisted, but Gu’s team is the first to create a reasonably sized detector that could read the data stored. While previous detectors were too large, the new detector is the width of a human hair.

The research team has asserted that the new twisted fibre optics could be used to easily upgrade existing networks and significantly boost efficiencies. And, Gu and his team insist that it can also work with networks that rely on copper wire.

Despite the exciting potential of the research, it will be some time before we see it implemented. It will need to meet certain regulatory compliance standards before it can be used.

The future and relevance of fibre remains unclear, especially with the advent of 5G and projects like Tesla owner Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s satellite initiative. Alongside Google Fibre looking at wireless initiatives it is uncertain if the major players will stay the course with fibre or abandon this route in favour of the likes of 5G and other developing trends.

Elon Musk’s ambitious plans could, eventually blow away the competition. The project, slated for 2024, is to put a constellation of satellites in a low earth orbit, providing high-speed cable-like internet into every corner of the planet.

Currently, there are 1,459 satellites orbiting earth, along with a further 2,600 inactive ones. SpaceX plans to launch 4,425 satellites into orbit. While ambitious the payoff could be immense.

This blanket of broadband coverage that accesses any area of the world would make low latency internet available to locations that had previously suffered poor service. And Elon Musk has not stopped there. He plans to introduce a similar system to deploy on Mars for future colonisation.

Tim Bamford author picture


Tim is a veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.