Fibre optics have been promising faster Internet speeds and more reliable connections for years now. But the delivery, at least in the UK, has been plagued by the cost of installation process and the legacy copper-wire infrastructure already in place.
But now, a research team from the University of Glasgow, in partnership with colleagues from Germany, New Zealand, the US and Canada, claim to have found a new method of data transmission – by ‘twisting’ photons. The team claims that their research suggests the process, named ‘optical angular momentum’ (OAM), could form a foundation for cable-free wireless communications.
Light can be twisted in a number of ways; one method works by passing it through a hologram, like one found on a credit card. This light can then carry information – and a lot more than the usual binary 1’s and 0’s – in a similar way to quantum networks carrying data in the form of ‘qubits’ (quantum bits).
Martin Lavery, Lead Author and the Head of the Structured Photonics Research Group at the University of Glasgow, explains: “A complete, working [OAM] system capable of transmitting data wirelessly across free space has the potential to transform online access for developing countries, defence systems and cities around the world.” Lavery suggests that open-air photonics could be, “a solution that can potentially give us the bandwidth of fibre, but without the requirement for physical cabling.”
The team’s original experiments centred on testing the stability of OAM against interference from turbulent air. Testing the beam in a 1.6 km long ‘urban space’ in Germany, the researchers report that they beamed a light in such a way to test it against the interference of high-rise buildings and open space environments. In the end, the tests proved to be successful.
The team are not yet ready to announce the experiment a success however, claiming there are still untested mechanics which could disrupt transmissions, such as extreme weather (rain and snow), and how the amount of the system can effectively handle.
More positively, while photon-relaying technology is likely to prove ineffective indoors, the widespread adoption of OAM tech could mean a much faster internet, and eliminate the need for expensive and disruptive cable installation.
In the future, it could also lead to improving quantum information transfer, a ‘crucial step’ in quantum-encrypted communications and quantum computing-technology – millions of times more powerful than today’s current systems.