Scientists demonstrate Terabit per second optical wireless for beyond 5G communications

Oxford and Southampton collaboration seeks to solve challenges of optical wireless technologies

A research collaboration including experts from the Department of Engineering Science and the Zepler Institute for Photonics and Nanoelectronics has demonstrated Terabit per second transmission on a fibre-wireless-fibre system.

The result shows the potential to create the ultra-high rate optical wireless links that will be required for 5G and beyond in applications such as Virtual Reality Headsets.

Researchers from the Zepler Institute and the Department of Engineering Science have presented their findings this week in San Diego at OFC 2020, the world’s largest optical fibre communication conference.

New regions of spectrum and technologies that can use these regions will be crucial to the continued advancement of wireless communications. Optical wireless can access a huge region of spectrum, and this is a rapidly growing area of commercial interest, with new products and recently agreed new standards.

There are multiple challenges with Terabit per second optical wireless communications, concerning the modulation and detection of light, and the architectures that can route data flows of this magnitude.

Oxford and Southampton researchers are working to resolve these challenges by using ‘light from the fibre’ for wireless. This light can be collimated through a high-precision tracking system, forming a narrow parallel beam that can be steered from a transmitter to a receiver. A receiver-based steering system can then couple the light back into a fibre, where fibre based transceivers can be used to detect incoming data streams.

Professor Dominic O’Brien, of Oxford’s Optical Communications Group, adds, “Users now demand access to high speed data wherever they are, and this work shows that it’s possible to provide this at rates many orders of magnitude higher than systems we use today. In the future the virtual reality and similar applications will require these very high data rates, and this work shows how this might be achieved.”

Professor Periklis Petropoulos, of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre, says: “Through this research we prepared a laser beam that carried the targeted 1Tb per second signal between the terminals. This rate of data transfer far exceeds what is currently possible using traditional wireless technology."

“Although these results are directional and require an uninterrupted line of sight, there are real and present applications in the market. For example, this would represent an enormous performance upgrade in data centres where racks of computers need to communicate at high speed with one another.”

The collaboration has been driven forward through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded Converged Optical and Wireless Access Networks (COALESCE) and European Commission funded Wireless Optical/Radio TERabit Communications (WORTECS) programmes.