Fibre optic cables were a sure improvement on regular copper wires. Using light, fibre optics, now used in telecommunications across the world, transferred data faster and more efficiently, not to forget that it could pack in more data than copper wires.
Of course, the light beams that are bounced around through the fibre optics are regular, straight beams that travel from point A to point B (using a process known as Multiplexing), but a question scientists have asked is what if these beams of light could be twisted? Would that yield faster speeds and greater data transfer?
Well, to both questions, the answer is yes, as researchers from the University of Southern California, the University of Tel Aviv with assistance from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, have demonstrated that “twisted” beams of light do indeed outperform their regular counterparts and do so at a very impressive rate.
In a study conducted by the above researchers, publishing their work in the journal, Nature Photonics, the team was able to transfer 2.5 terabits of data, the equivalent of 66 DVDs, per second. At present, no data transfer method in use is capable of such speed.
In essence, the researchers were able to load a single light beam with 8 others, each carrying their own bundle of data, which when transmitted, travels as a single beam and upon arrival, is "unpacked" to reveal the beams compliment of data.
The research team was able to do this using a technique that manipulated the light beam’s Orbital Angular Momentum or OAM. Angular momentum applies to light in two ways, that is, by its Spin Angular Momentum (SAM) as well as its Orbital Angular Momentum. Thanks to its OAM, the light that is packed into the single beam, does not "wiggle" as in the case of SAM, but is compacted to twist around the beam of light, making the single beam far stronger.
The present study saw a single beam of light carry 2.5 terabits per second carried over a distance of 1 meter, but the method could be adapted for long distance use as lead researcher Professor Alan Willner of the University of Southern California said, "One of the challenges in this respect is turbulence in the atmosphere. For situations that require high capacity... over relatively short distances of less than 1km, this approach could be appealing. Of course, there are also opportunities for long-distance satellite-to-satellite communications in space, where turbulence is not an issue."
Commenting, Juan Torres of the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Barcelona said about the present work that it "contributes a new chapter to the long history of telecommunications by demonstrating the potential of OAM... for increasing the transmission capacity."