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19th September 2011

Broadband: 5000 times faster

Procrastination suddenly got a lot easier.
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The “wonder material” graphene, already the strongest and thinnest known material, could now be used to massively increase the speeds of internet connections.

The first connection using graphene based sensors was developed in 2010 and it transmitted data at 10Gb/s (for comparison, this is 5000 times faster than a typical 2Mb/s home internet connection). As a comparison, with a 2Mb/s connection, you could download a standard DVD in about five hours. You could download the same DVD in only four seconds using a graphene based optical cable. Not bad for something that was only discovered in 2004 using a pencil and some sticky tape.

Fibre optic internet connections send data as light. We then require sensors to detect that light and create electrical signals so the data can be understood by a computer. Basing these sensors on graphene made them quicker to react to the light. They were found to be up to one thousand times faster than traditional sensors. Developing optical cables that use these sensors could increase the amount of data carried to twenty times that of a typical fibre optic connection.

In trials, graphene based sensors received data without error. However, they still had a problem; they were very inefficient. Now, in recent research from a collaboration between the Universities of Manchester and Cambridge, this problem has been overcome.

The previous graphene based light sensors only absorbed a tiny fraction of the light shone on them, so they did not produce strong enough electrical signals. Scientists increased this by attaching very small, metallic structures to the graphene which acted to guide and concentrate the light, resulting in up to a 20-fold increase in the efficiency of the sensors. Researchers believe this could be improved upon with further research.

Faster internet connections are not the only application scientists identified. The light sensors they developed work in much the same way a solar cell would. Graphene based solar cells might generate more power than even the best of current generation solar cells.

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