Who wouldn’t want 100x faster internet speed? A dramatic speed increase of that factor is surely what the data hungry world of today needs and more dramatic than the increases that we have come to expect in the wireless world. In October, the IET reported a claim by researchers based in Australia that 100x faster internet speeds over fibre-optic cables may be possible using optical angular momentum. In an era where so much attention is focussed on wireless data transmission, advances in wired technologies are less prominently reported in the mainstream press.
Optical angular momentum is a property of a light beam whose phase structure rotates. The explanation of this phenomenon in 1992[i] has driven further research by the physics community. The underlying physics is not patentable being excluded as a discovery and/or scientific theory. However, when the underlying principle is exploited in a specific technical field, the resulting technology is patentable provided it meets the usual novelty, inventive step and industrial applicability requirements.
Patenting activity based on one or more specific uses of optical angular momentum (OAM) started around 2013 and is on the rise. The range of uses for the phenomenon is growing and includes producing focussed Bessel beams having OAM (US2018/0241497), multiplexing (US2018/0234139), underwater communication (US2017/0187442), short range point-to-point radio-communication (US2016/0292472) and optical encryption (US2018/0252557).
In contrast, the BBC business news report that after its roll-out, 5G could achieve real-world download and browsing speeds about 10 to 20 times faster than current 4G mobile networks. 5G is being seen as the answer to the mobile data consumption explosion with an ever increasing number of connected devices, continued uptake of video and music streaming and the expectation of truly autonomous vehicles requiring guaranteed connectivity.
Whilst the hunger for mobile wireless data is not going to diminish, much of the data transport mechanism in the UK is still wired. Technical advances in wired data transport will therefore continue to be equally important as the more popularly reported wireless improvements. We expect to continue to see strong research and development in both wired and wireless data transport. Whether optical angular momentum can deliver the promised increases in wired data transport waits to be seen.
[i] “Orbital angular momentum of light and the transformation of Laguerre-Gaussian laser modes” by L Allen, M W Beijersbergen, R J C Spreeuw and J P Woerdman in Physical Review A, volume 45, number 11, 1 June 1992
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