Researchers twist light to send data at 2.56 terabits/sec

Researchers have developed a light-based method to transmit data at rates up to 2.56 terabits/sec. The new approach opens the possibility of high-speed satellite communications, short-range free-space terrestrial links, and potential adaptation in fiber-optic systems.

The work of a multinational team of scientists led by the University of Southern California, the process uses eight beams of light twisted into a DNA-like helical stream through the use of light-bending “phase holograms.”

Each individual beam has its own twist, which can be encoded with data to effectively serve as an independent data stream, similar to individual channels on a radio, USC scientists said in a statement.

Broadband cable has a maximum data rate of 30 megabits/sec. The twisted light system is capable of moving more than 85,000 times more data, USC officials said.

“You’re able to do things with light that you can’t do with electricity,” said Alan Willner, a professor of electrical engineering at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering. Willner is also the author of a related article about the research published in Nature Photonics on June 24. He said the USC team did not invent the beam twisting process, but it did ramp it up to terabit levels. “That’s the beauty of light; it’s a bunch of photons that can be manipulated in many different ways at very high speed,” he added.

The technology, the result of research funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as part of its Information in a Photon, or InPho, program, was successfully demonstrated in a laboratory setting that simulated satellite communications in space.

The research team included members from the United States, China, Pakistan and Israel.

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