Current routers operate at microwave frequencies, but the demand for faster speeds and more bandwidth increases exponentially year on year, which has had researchers looking for ways to alleviate the current bottlenecks. The Terahertz breakdown frequency fits snugly between the microwave and infrared part of the spectrum, and recent tests have shown that THz will enable wireless routers to transmit an average of 100 GB of data per second; a hundred times faster than even the best connections we have today.However, the big question is, just how soon will we be seeing a THz router in a store near us?
The current advance by US and Japanese researchers is in the form of a modified antenna which can operate at THz wavelengths. The new device is being called the “Leaky wave antenna”, and is made using two parallel sheets of metal to form a waveguide. One has a small slit which causes the waves to travel down through the waveguide and some radiation intentionally leaks out, but the angle at which it does so depends on the frequency, which means that it can radiate 10 different frequencies and at 10 angles. This enables multiplexing and de-multiplexing (combining different signals and transmitting them over a single medium and then reversing the process at the other end).
One of the advantages to this approach, the researchers say, is that by adjusting the distance between the plates, it’s possible to adjust the spectrum bandwidth that can be allocated to each channel. This offers a unique method for controlling the spectrum allocation, by variation of the wave guide plate separation.
Safety and Security
Though this breakthrough has certainly sparked excitement in the tech community, there are a couple of challenges that the researchers need to overcome prior to THz going mainstream.
There aresafety concerns associated with the use of THz radiation; there is limited evidence to suggest that it can cause problemsfor biological organisms. A 2009 theoretical study published by MIT postulated that THz waves could interfere with DNA, but the process was unlikely because it would require long-term exposure to the radiation. Experts have recommended that extensive experimental procedures be carried out to ascertain the likelihood of DNA alteration, but the general consensus is that the frequency is not hazardous.
Computer scientists point out that the technology is too young to actually determine if it’s secure. However, once the mass deployment of THz wireless routers is made possible, security experts can then find ways to improve encryption over transmission lengths.
THz has been used to break the wireless data transmission-rate world record, but what will it need to function in the real world? Obviously, the speeds at which processes such as transmission, processing and detection are carried out will have to be as fast as the frequency itself in order to avoid creating a bottleneck, and at the moment the underlying technology is missing. Electronic components need to be developed to facilitate the speed and to seamlessly multiplex and de-multiplex the signals. This technique would make it possible for mass amounts of data to be transmitted around through the internet, radio and TV, etc. but there is also the issue of developing technology small enough to fit into laptops, smartphones and tablets.
Because of these issues, the general consensus is that it will take up to five years for the first THz wireless routers to start surfacing. But those routers will still be very pricey, probably in the $1000 range, and it may take another two years for smaller devices like cell phones and laptops to start using the technology.
This is probably one of the most significant steps towards making real world applications of THz data transmissions a possibility, but there is a long road ahead before mass production is a possibility.