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Twisted light transmits more data

Spiral beams allow multiple information streams in one cable

5:04pm, June 27, 2013

A new fiber-optic cable that seamlessly shuttles multiple beams of light simultaneously could drastically speed data transfer over the Internet.

“It’s like having more fibers without actually laying more fibers,” says Andrew Weiner, a physicist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Telecommunications companies use light to encode and send data through fiber-optic cables. Over the last few decades, scientists have increased bandwidth by enabling a single beam to carry more information, but their progress soon will be outpaced by the vast amounts of data people exchange. Laying more fibers would be expensive. “We’ve gotten to the point where the [telecom] community has been asking what else we can do,” says Siddharth Ramachandran, a physicist at Boston University.

The solution he and his team came up with was to dispatch multiple beams of light through a single fiber. The idea goes back nearly four decades, but

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