Researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, have announced the latest breakthrough that could increase Internet speeds up to 100 times. The research, conducted at RMIT’s Laboratory of Artificial-Intelligence Nanophotonics (LAIN) and published in the journal Nature Communications, can be used to easily improve the existing networks and vastly increase Internet speeds for the average users, creating ultra-broadband networks. The improved efficiency, especially if it doesn’t require large investments, should help further reduce Internet costs and make it more accessible. It will also unlock the full potential of optic cables, which transfer data at the speed of light.
The current network is limited by the encoding devices placed at the end of the lines, which lead to just a fraction of fiber-optic potential being used. The new device, dubbed nanophotonic, aims at removing those limitations by changing the way signals are being transported through the line.
Currently, the data is transmitted via pulses of light and decoded based on the color and the vertical or horizontal orientation of the light. The new ground-breaking technology envisions adding another dimension to the light, by spiraling it. The similar research forms the United States of America served as a base for this work.
The same RMIT team managed to decode a small portion of data transmitted by the twisted light but was unable to scale up their success, until now.
Dr. Haoran Ren from RMIT’s School of Science, the co-lead author of the paper, says that successfully decoding twisted light was the major hurdle his team had to overcome.
“Present-day optical communications are heading towards a ‘capacity crunch’ as they fail to keep up with the ever-increasing demands of Big Data,” Ren said, “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.”
Professor Ren further explains: “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. 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 millimeter, our invention does this job better and fits on the end of an optical fiber.”
LAIN Director and Associate Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research Innovation and Entrepreneurship at RMIT, Professor Min Gu, says that the materials used in the new devices make them highly scalable and compatible with the current networks.
“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 make it a viable application for the next generation of broadband optical communications,” he said.
“It fits the scale of existing fiber technology and could be applied to increase the bandwidth, or potentially the processing speed, of that fiber 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 amount of data and the speed of transfer this cutting-edge technology offers are unparalleled in today’s networks. The twisting light can also be tweaked further, in order to achieve even greater speeds.
“It’s like DNA if you look at the double helix spiral,” said Gu. “The more you can use angular momentum the more information you can carry.”
The device can also be used to decode quantum data send by the twisted light, which opens up a whole new field of application and new research opportunities.
It remains to be seen how this breakthrough will affect Australia’s National Broadband Network’s (NBN) plans to improve on their network. The previous Labor government has planned for a fiber to the premises version, which means that every home would be connected via fiber-optic cable. The current government has deemed that too costly and has downgraded to fiber to nod option, which calls for a fiber-optic connection to a neighborhood nod and from then a copper wire would be connecting homes to the nod. Although cheaper, this version calls for far more copper to be used approximately 500 meters of wire per household. The original plan would use no copper at all, while another option, fiber to curb, would need 30 meters per connection. Compared to the original ADSL connections, which needed 2.5 km per home, all these are a vast improvement. The NBN did acknowledge that with fiber to nod connections, as much as 3 out of four household wouldn’t be able to reach top speeds over their network, due to a large percentage of slower copper connections. The network is planned to be finished by 2020.
Stephen Rue, the CEO of NBN, has stated that the company hopes to achieve a larger percentage of fiber to curb connections than originally planned in order to improve the speed for the end users.
Professor Gu said that their research can help even in the case of networks with a large percentage of copper connections.
“We will definitely reduce this hurdle,” he said. “We will make this transfer more efficient.”
By 2020, NBN hopes to connect 2 million homes with fiber to premises, 4.6 million with fiber to nod and 1.4 million with fiber to curb connections. According to them, this will prepare the network for future increases in demands for speed and amount of data.
“New communications technologies are continually being tested in labs many years in advance of being commercialized. They require widespread acceptance from equipment manufacturers and network operators before they are ready for operational deployment,” their spokesman said.