Researchers at the University of Southern California, Tel Aviv University and NASA’s Jet Propulsion lab have used their massive brains to show off a way to deliver speeds of 2.5 terabits per second wirelessly. That’s 500,000 times faster than the current low-end LTE speeds and 5,000 times faster than the 5.5 gigabits per second, which is the fastest theoretical wireless broadband I’ve encountered in my years covering wireless.
These researchers have managed to achieve this epic speed at a distance of less than one meter using what researchers call “twisted signals.” According to Extreme Tech, which explains it so well:
These twisted signals use orbital angular momentum (OAM) to cram much more data into a single stream. In current state-of-the-art transmission protocols (WiFi, LTE, COFDM), we only modulate the spin angular momentum (SAM) of radio waves, not the OAM. If you picture the Earth, SAM is our planet spinning on its axis, while OAM is our movement around the Sun. Basically, the breakthrough here is that researchers have created a wireless network protocol that uses both OAM and SAM.
The resulting technology offers the spectral efficiency of 95.7 bits per hertz. To put that into perspective, today on Verizon’s LTE network, the equipment delivers 1.5 bits per hertz of spectrum. By delivering so much data per hertz of spectrum, the barriers toward building ever-faster networks as defined by Shannon’s Law would become fundamentally reset, allowing the next generation of engineers to build networks unimaginable to today’s generation.
Obviously, the usual caveats around new technologies apply. So far this is in the lab only. The speeds aren’t maintained for long distances and are based on lightwaves as opposed to radio waves (this means line of sight is essential). There’s no indication of how much power chips to deliver this type of speed would consume, and there’s no actual ecosystem in place to support or even twist those wavelengths.
That being said, there’s no Moore’s Law governing wireless networks, which is a real problem given how much data we are demanding via mobile networks. Granted, Wi-Fi and more efficient technologies will help, but we need a fundamental breakthrough on the physics side to keep up with wireless consumption. Terahertz spectrum and chips are one way, and these twisted signals might be another. As a plus, they could work on fiber optic networks too, which means we might see another boost in broadband capacity along our long haul and core networks.