By taking a light beam and twisting it, fiber optic cables get a turbo boost, according to researchers at Boston University. The findings — recently published in Science — show that twisting the light beam allows transmission of 1.6 terabits of data a second through a one kilometer long fiber cable, roughly eight times that of Blu-Ray.
The technology isn’t exactly new, but prior to the Boston University study scientists couldn’t get the beam to go farther than one meter. Before this study, the only option to increase bandwidth was to lay more fiber optic lines, but this advancement allows for integral growth.
“Service providers can put in more fiber optic lines, but that’s a linear process, it’s not exponential growth,” lead author Siddharth Ramachandran said in an interview with Motherboard. “We’ve added another degree of freedom to these fibers.”
Everything is becoming more connected: smart phones, iPads, Google Glass, smart TVs. The more connected the world becomes, the increase in demand placed on the fiber optic infrastructure. Fiber cables work by assigning each customer a unique color light, so that transmissions do not get confused. A data transmitter and receiver decode each color light. As new customers and products start to send and receive data, more and more colored lights must be added and all the beams get closer together, which causes nonlinear distortion.
With this technology, instead of sending light beams straight down the cable, the light is beamed with a tornado-like shape, called orbital angular momentum (OAM). Current technology sends light beams in the shape of straight steel rods. By corkscrewing beams, they become more flexible and that allows for more beams in each fiber. While it is still limited, Ramachandran said that the fiber has a good application for companies with huge server farms, such as Facebook and Google.
“We’re not sure if it’ll work for long haul networks, but data communications potentially has an even bigger bottleneck on server farms,” Ramachandran said. “A lot of the communication between those servers is done with fiber right now, and they’re hurting on how to figure out how to keep up with the massive amounts of data.”
Unlike other new technologies, the tornado-like producing OAM cables are ready for use now. OFSFitel — one of the world’s largest fiber optic cable manufacturers — was involved in the project.When service providers look to lay new fiber optic cables or are planning on upgrading their infrastructure, OAM cables may be a practical solution.
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