New device could make broadband 100 times faster using ‘twisted’ light

25 Oct 2018

Image: © niyazz/

Broadband speeds – at least for some – could soon be significantly faster than anything today thanks to the latest fibre optic technology.

The demand set to be put on the world’s internet infrastructure will be almost overwhelming in the years to come, from streaming services such as Netflix, to the proliferation of the internet of things.

Now, in order to help keep up with this demand, researchers from Australia’s RMIT University have revealed a new device that could allow for internet speeds 100 times faster than anything available today.

Existing broadband fibre optics carry information on pulses at the speed of light, but the way this light is encoded at one end and processed at the other affects data speeds.

Detailing its results in Nature Communications, the research team said that to overcome this, it has developed the world’s first nanophotonic device that can encode more data, and process it incredibly fast using a special form of ‘twisted’ light. This tiny device, it said, was the missing key required to overcome the “capacity crunch”.

The latest fibre optic technology uses the oscillation, or shape, of light waves to encode data, thereby increasing bandwidth by making use of light invisible to the naked eye.

With the addition of the nanophotonic device, the data is carried on light waves that have been twisted into a spiral to increase the capacity even further. This process is known as light in a state of orbital angular momentum (OAM). Until now, the technology to detect a wide range of OAM light for optical communications was not viable.

Illustration of the minature OAM detector decoding light that has been twisted.

The miniature OAM nanoelectronic detector decodes twisted light. Image: RMIT University

From table-sized to a fraction of a millimetre

“To do this previously would require a machine the size of a table, which is completely impractical for telecommunications,” said Dr Haoran Ren, lead author of the paper.

“By using ultra-thin topological nanosheets measuring a fraction of a millimetre, our invention does this job better and fits on the end of an optical fibre.”

Speaking of how it can be applied to broadband networks, RMIT’s Prof Min Gu said the technology would be compatible with existing silicon-based materials.

“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.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic