American and Israeli researchers recently announced a new form of WiFi capable of transferring around 2.5 terabits (2.5Tb) of data per second. If you’re not sure what a terabit is it’s roughly one thousand gigabits, which is in turn one thousand megabits. You know megabits, that thing that your broadband connection speed is measured in? If you’re lucky enough to live in a country where broadband is prevalent your connection probably comes in at somewhere between 4 and 30 megabits per second, with a maximum of around 100 megabits if you’re both really lucky and willing to pay.
So let’s reiterate. One terabit (Tb) is one thousand gigabits (Gb), a Gb is in turn one thousand megabits (Mb), which you probably get around 16 of per second if you’re on ADSL2+.
It’s important at this point not to confuse bits with bytes, as you’ve likely heard the terms ‘gigabyte’ (GB) and ‘megabyte’ (MB) before. Apart from the fact that the ‘B’ in measurements using ‘byte’ is capitalised, a ‘byte’ is exactly 8 times bigger than a ‘bit’. It’s important to keep to the perspective that this technology transfers 2.5 terabits per second, not terabytes. It’s still an incredible achievement, we just wanted to make sure that you as our reader wasn’t getting mixed up with measurements.
So, a transfer speed of 2.5 terabits per second is equivalent to 350 gigabytes per second or, as ExtremeTech aptly pointed out, roughly 7 Blu-Ray movies per second.
If you’re still confused check out our broadband usage guide for further information regarding the difference between bits and bytes.
Right now the technology is obviously limited by range of application. A WiFi signal capable of transmitting 2.5Tb per second is obviously overkill if the internet connection feeding it is only capable of a paltry 16Mb.
What’s really exciting about the breakthrough is what it means for future wireless technologies. We’re very close to hitting the limit of useful wireless technology spectrums, meaning that with our current technology things weren’t going to get much faster than 4G LTE for some time. However, the method that the American and Israeli team used to enhance data speed is truly groundbreaking.
It all comes down to controlling something called orbital angular momentum (OAM). Currently, state of the art wireless technologies employ a similar approach with spin angular momentum (SAM) of radio waves. The difference between OAM and SAM has been likened to the Earth’s orbit. The analogy goes that if SAM can be likened to the rotation or spin of the Earth, while OAM is more closely related to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun.
What this means is that multiple wireless signals can be effectively twisted together in to a thin stream and sent simultaneously. The potential for the number of signals that can be sent in a single stream in this manner has been described as ‘infinite’. Potentially we may eventually see 4G LTE signals grouped together in bundless of… whatever number you can think of. Of course we’ll have to start off slow and work our way up, but even grouping 10 LTE signals together at once would be an incredible improvement over current network speeds. Then we can start to work on numbers upwards of 1000.
This is only if the technology is not limited to point-to-point transmission, as it sounds like it currently may be. Point-to-point would require a directional antenna and is subject to scattering and refraction by a variety of forces. This would unfortunately mean that OAM would not be useful as a nation-wide broadband network, but remain a short-range, directional method.
This is the first demonstration of a functioning, real-world OAM-based data transmission system, as OAM was only proved to be possible mere months ago. The 2.5Tb signal produced by the joint research team was found to support data transfer up to only 1m; not very useful for WiFi, let alone a nation-wide wireless broadband solution. But it’s still very early on at this stage and both range and speed are sure to improve as time goes on. We’re also hopeful that OAM will prove to be useful on a wider scale than point-to-point would allow.
We think this is incredibly exciting news. Of course landline technologies are still going to be the staple for a long time to come. The reason this new wireless solution is so fast is because it can bundle multiple signals together in to one beam which means that space can be saved on our radio frequency spectrum. Alternatively we could always just improve our fibre optic technologies, which is sure to happen anyway.
We just like thinking about how fast the internet will be in the future and the kinds of incredible, culture-changing innovations that will be possible as a result. The internet is making our world smaller every day and the faster it goes the smaller it gets. We’re no longer so firmly separated from one another by borders, oceans or distance. Here’s hoping that our world continues to shrink for many years to come.