Technology 3 min read

Researchers Create Breakthrough in Next-Gen WiFi

In a major push towards improving future internet speeds, a Harvard team has created a new form of next-gen wifi using lasers.

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When Dean Martin recorded his version of the song “Volare”, he wouldn’t have imagined it would be used in a breakthrough experiment sixty years later.

Back then, in the 1950s, if you couldn’t catch the song on the radio, you’d have very few other options. You could buy a vinyl record of the song and play it on a turntable.

This year, however, in a major boost to next-gen wifi possibilities, Harvard researchers have wirelessly transmitted Martin’s classic using a semiconductor laser.

Laser Radio Transmitter: Next-Gen Wi-Fi

For the first time, a laser was used as a radio frequency transmitter, a step closer to a new form of next-gen WiFi.

Researchers at Harvard University’s John A. Paulson SEAS (School of Engineering and Applied Sciences) developed a new radio frequency transmission method and used it to wirelessly transfer a recording of Dean Martin’s song “Volare” via a semiconductor laser.

“The research opens the door to new types of hybrid electronic-photonic devices and is the first step toward ultra-high-speed Wi-Fi,” said SEAS’ Federico Capasso, senior author of the study.

While lasers can usually emit a single frequency of light, this superconductor laser can “emit microwaves wirelessly, modulate them, and receive external radio frequency signals.”

This is the latest development of the research project that Capasso’s lab started years ago.

In 2017, the team showed that infrared frequency combs in lasers can generate terahertz at wavelengths that could transfer data “hundreds of times faster” than existing wireless internet. Then last year, they discovered that these laser frequency combs could also act as information transmitters or receivers.

In the present work, the team found a way to extract and transmit wireless signals from frequency combs that, unlike conventional lasers, can emit multiple radio frequencies at once. These frequencies are evenly spaced, like the teeth of a comb, hence the name.

Read More: Twisted Light Holds the key to the Future of Wireless Data Transmission

To transmit microwave signals, the device needed a rabbit-ear-like antenna, like old TV antennas, and the first information file that went via the system was the song.

“This all-in-one, integrated device holds great promise for wireless communication,” said Marco Piccardo, first author of the study. “While the dream of terahertz wireless communication is still a ways away, this research provides a clear roadmap showing how to get there.”

Harvard researchers aren’t the only ones investigating the viability of laser-based wireless communication.

Engineers of Project Loon, at Alphabet Inc’s X company, are developing a next-gen wifi system based on laser beams, and there’s already a buyer of this tech in the Indian government. Upon the agreement, millions of residents in remote regions in India will soon have access to laser Wi-Fi.

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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