Visible and infrared light can carry more data than radio waves, but has always been confined to a hard-wired, fiber-optic cable. In conjunction with the Facebook Connectivity Lab, a Duke research team has now made a major advance toward getting rid of the fiber in fiber optics. While working to create a free-space optical communication system for high-speed wireless internet, the researchers also show that speed and efficiency properties previously demonstrated on tiny, single-unit plasmonic antennas can also be achieved on larger, centimeter-scale devices.
In 2016, researchers from the Internet.org Connectivity Lab, a subsidiary of Facebook, outlined a new type of light detector that could potentially be used for free-space optical communication. Traditionally, hard-wired optical fiber connections can be much faster than radio wave wireless connections as visible and near-infrared light frequencies can carry much more information than radio waves (WiFi, Bluetooth, and so on).
However, using these higher frequencies in wireless devices is difficult. Current setups use either LEDs or lasers aimed at detectors that can reorient themselves to optimize the connection. It would be much more efficient, however, if a detector could capture light from different directions all at once. The catch is that increasing the size of an optical receiver also makes it slower.