Wireless data transmissions just took a step closer to being able to overtake fiber optics thanks to a breakthrough highlighting the challenges that still need to be addressed in order to implement twisted light wireless technologies. Twisted light transmissions have the potential to rival fiber optics in speeds thanks to a unique property given to photons passed through a hologram. The photons are given optical angular momentum, becoming twisted and enabling each photon to carry more data. Effectively, the data transmissions can encode data in letters alongside the more traditionally used ones and zeroes. Twisted light is already in use for cable-based transmissions but wireless transmissions have proven difficult for implementation. Researchers out of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light and Institute of Optics, and the Universities of Otago, Ottawa, and Rochester, led by Dr. Martin Lavery, head of the Structured Photonics Research Group at the University of Glasgow, published their findings in a scientific journal called Science Advances on October 26th, showing the results and data collected during a real-world twisted light test link.
As to the test itself, it was conducted in an urban environment, in Erlangen, Germany. The link was established at roughly a mile out, replicating what is commonly referred to as a "last mile wireless connection" – which is a data transmission sent over cables where the final mile to and from consumers is delivered via a wireless transmission between fixed points with a clear line of sight. The test link provided an in-depth look at how factors in an urban environment can and do affect the signal. Those are things such as buildings and other obstructions or changes in atmospheric pressure, among other light-scattering factors. Specifically, the collected data will be important in pinpointing the challenges adaptive optics need to overcome in order for twisted light transmissions to become commercially viable, as well as providing insight into how twisted light channels should be formed.
Although the researchers weren't able to find a complete solution to the problems at hand, twisted light wireless transmissions have the potential to replace the cable networks currently being used to deliver data. Those cables already use twisted light methods, but the cabling itself presents a problem because they must be physically put in place. That is much more time-consuming and expensive than implementing wireless solutions but wireless solutions currently can't offer truly high-speed access. As a result, the growth of high-speed networks has been exceedingly slow as compared to the increasing demand for quality, high-speed internet. While there's no guarantee that this test will ever result in a commercially acceptable alternative to fiber optics, it could very well be a big step in that direction since it provides a true focal point for future research on the matter.