We all want our data delivered faster than the speed of light. Scientists have come up with a means to accomplish that. Well, almost. Researchers have been able to transmit data up to 2.56 terabits per second using light beams. That’s 85,000 times more data than broadband cable at 30 megabits per second.

A lighthouse sent a message understood by sailors that warned of a dangerous shoreline. Scientists recently used light beams to transmit actual data. Satellite communication links or short free-space earthbound links may be the benefactor of their work. Even fiber optic cables used by ISP’s could benefit from an adaptation of the scientists’ research.

Light beams once used to warn sailors are now set to transmit data. Photo credit: Dan Heller Photography

Light beams once used to warn sailors are now set to transmit data. Photo credit: Dan Heller Photography

The research team drew participants from the University of Southern California (USC), NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, Tel Aviv University in Israel, and included a professor now at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, China. The scientists used twisted beams of light at ultra high speeds. Twisting light is not a new concept, but its use has been improved upon by this research.

Light beams are twisted into a helix-like shape similar to a telephone cord

Light beams are twisted into a helix-like shape similar to a telephone cord

Beam-twisting ?phase holograms? result in a DNA-like helical shape. For readers who remember land lines, a helix looks a lot like a telephone cord. Originally, this discovery resulted in applications from optical manipulation to quantum information processing. The USC based team applied the concept to communications. They manipulated eight beams of light, each of which could be encoded with the familiar 1’s and 0’s providing eight independent data streams.

They managed data exchange between orbital angular momentum beams. The multiplexing/demultiplexing process of sending multiple signals or streams of information on a carrier at the same time in the form of a single, complex signal and then recovering the separate signals at the receiving end, was achieved using beam splitters, collimators, half wave plates, mirrors, polarizers, and spatial light modulators.

Alan Willner, electrical engineering professor at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering says "That’s the beauty of light; it’s a bunch of photons that can be manipulated in many different ways at very high speed. You’re able to do things with light that you can’t do with electricity.?

The project was published in Nature Photonics. The team reported the research suggests that the capacity of free-space communication could be increased. A more detailed explanation can be found in the article.

The research was funded by the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) under the InPho (Information in a Photon) program.