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One step closer to terahertz communication thanks to new filters

Engineers have developed filters that can separate different frequencies in the terahertz spectrum. The filters, which can be produced using an off-the-shelf inkjet printer, are a major advancement towards terahertz communications, which will allow for data tranmission rates a thousand times faster than today.

The new methodology was developed by engineers from the University of Utah in a paper published in journal Optica.

The terahertz range of the electromagnetic spectrum lies between the microwave and infrared bands, and has garnered much attention recently for its potential to identify hazardous substances from afar and detect cancerous tumours earlier and more accurately.

There has been an increasing interest in the application of terahertz waves to broadband wireless communications because of the enormous potential for boosting data transmission rate. While mobiles on a ‘4G’ network can download data at 10 to 15 megabits per second, terahertz technology can potentially send data back and forth at millions of megabits per second.

‘If we could effectively use the terahertz spectrum for communications, we could have a thousand times more bandwidth than we currently do,' commented graduate student Andrew Paulsen, who co-authored the paper with U electrical and computer engineering professor, Ajay Nahata.

By using filters to separate frequencies in order to create multiple communication channels, users will be able to download information from the internet or talk on a smartphone with less noise or interfering signals. 

Paulsen and Nahata discovered that by creating certain computer-generated designs and printing them on a plastic sheet via a regular inkjet printer, they could create a filter that allows certain terahertz frequencies to pass through while blocking others out.

The printer uses silver-metal ink similar to what is used for the production of circuit boards and tiny antennas.

By using a terahertz generator, which shoots out an invisible beam of light, researchers can measure the frequencies as the beam passes through the filter. The dimensions and geometry of the printed designs, determine which frequencies get through and to what extent.

It might be another 10 years before consumers are using Wi-Fi routers or smartphones with terahertz technology, but communications companies could use it for their network backbones much sooner. Some researchers have already achieved lightning download speeds with wireless terahertz chips, and others are interested in broadcasting super-high-definition 4K television signals over the air with cameras that use the terahertz spectrum.

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Related links

Paper in Optica

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