Light-twisting technique could speed up internet connections

A new way of transmitting data by twisting beams of light could help make internet connections many thousands of times faster.

An international team of researchers has developed a technique for sending eight twisted beams of light in a single signal space, which could be used to build high-speed satellite communication links or potentially adapted for use in terrestrial internet lines.

The technique enables transmission speeds of up to 2.56 terabits per second — more than 25,000 times faster than the highest advertised UK broadband speed of 100 megabits per second and more than 300,000 times faster than the average UK speed of 7.6 megabits per second.

‘You’re able to do things with light that you can’t do with electricity,’ said Alan Willner, one of the lead researchers on the project from the University of Southern California (USC).

‘That’s the beauty of light; it’s a bunch of photons that can be manipulated in many different ways at very high speed.’

The team, which included researchers from China, Pakistan and Israel, used phase holograms to manipulate the eight light beams into travelling in a single space in a shape similar to a DNA multiple helix.

Their demonstration transmitted the data over open space in a lab, attempting to simulate the kind of communication that might occur between satellites. The researchers now plan to advance the technique so that it could be used for fibre-optic cables.

‘We didn’t invent the twisting of light, but we took the concept and ramped it up to a terabit-per-second,’ said Willner, who has authored a paper on the research in the journal Nature Photonics.