A group from Georgia Tech is hoping to build a micro-scale graphene antenna that would support terabit – or even hundred-terabit – radio communications.
Why micro-scale? Because the researchers are looking at handling radio waves that in the terahertz range, getting close to the far infrared, where the wavelengths involved are well below a millimeter. And why graphene? Because if it's fabricated the right way, electrons pass through very quickly (and, therefore, it supports the very fast oscillations that you need for a terahertz transmitter/receiver), supporting much higher frequencies than a scaled-down metallic antenna could match.
It's hardly the kind of development that's going to bring about the death of cables over any distance: the researchers are looking at a 1 Tbps transmission at a distance of one meter, or 100 Tbps at a few centimeters. Over larger distances, terahertz waves are too well absorbed by the atmosphere to be of any use.
However, at short distances, as Technology Review points out, really fast communications would be useful for transfers between devices (meaning the wife in the Samsung Galaxy SIII “Work Trip” advertisement could give hubby more than one video that he shouldn't watch on the plane), or more mundanely, for backing up huge amounts of data to an external drive without waiting overnight.
That's if, of course, the other problems of fast data transfer were addressed, like hard drive access times and bus transfer times. There's also the matter of developing electronics that can drive the wireless channel at terabit speeds.
For the communication channel, the Georgia Tech group led by Dr Ian Akyildiz proposes shaping graphene into strips thinner than 100 nanometers wide and a micron long. (A one-micron quarter-wavelength antenna would correspond to a baseband frequency of around 75 terahertz, which seems to The Register reasonable enough to transmit 100 Tbps).
Right now, Dr Akyildiz's group has designs and calculations and a paper accepted for publication in the IEEE's Journal of Selected Areas in Communication later this year, but it hopes to build a prototype within a year. ®