RMIT optical breakthrough to allow 100x faster internet

Created November 13, 2018
Applications and Research

A new form of “twisted” light, developed at RMIT, Melbourne Australia, can encode more data and process it much faster than conventional fibre optics. The developers say that their “twisted light beams” could lead to an Internet that is 100 times faster than today’s typical standard. A detailed paper on this world-first nanophotonic device has just been published in Nature Communications. Dr Haoran Ren from RMIT’s School of Science, Melbourne, Australia, who was co-lead author of the paper, said the tiny nanophotonic device they have built for reading twisted light is the “missing key required to unlock super-fast, ultra-broadband communications.”

“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.”

Current optical communications use only a fraction of light’s actual capacity by carrying data on the colour spectrum. New broadband technologies under development use the oscillation of light waves to encode data, increasing bandwidth by also making use of infrared wavelengths. The RMIT-developed technology carries data on light waves that are twisted into a spiral to increase their capacity further still. This is known as light in a state of orbital angular momentum, or OAM.

In 2016 the same group from RMIT’s Laboratory of Artificial-Intelligence Nanophotonics (LAIN) published a disruptive research paper in Science journal describing how they’d managed to decode a small range of this twisted light on a nanophotonic chip. But technology to detect a wide range of OAM light for optical communications was still not viable – until now.

Different states

Ren added “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,” Ren said.

“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 millimetre, our invention does this job better and fits on the end of an optical fibre.”

LAIN Director and Associate Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research Innovation and Entrepreneurship at RMIT, Professor Min Gu, said the materials used in the device were compatible with silicon-based materials use in most technology, making it easy to scale up for industry applications.

“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 makes it a viable application for the next generation of broadband optical communications,” he said.

“It fits the scale of existing fibre technology and could be applied to increase the bandwidth, or potentially the processing speed, of that fibre 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.”

Gu said the detector can also be used to receive quantum information sent via twisting light, meaning it could have applications in a whole range of cutting edge quantum communications and quantum computing research.

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This article was written
by Matthew Peach

Matthew Peach is a freelance technology journalist specialising in photonics and communications. He has previously worked for several business-to-business publishers, editing a range of high-tech magazines and websites.