According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), Chinese researchers at the Xian Institute of Optics and Precision Mechanics, a division of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, have successfully tested optical switching in space for the first time, marking a significant milestone in the development of 6G technology. Optical switching is a key development in modern technology that allows light signals to be transmitted from one place to another without requiring conversion into electrical signals.
Switching plays a pivotal role in communication networks, ensuring that information is directed to the intended recipient. Whether it’s making a phone call using a cell phone tower or streaming content over a broadband connection, switching guarantees that the right data is routed accurately. Present technology achieves this by converting light signals into electrical ones, routing them, and then converting them back into light signals as they traverse the fiber optic network. The Xian team, however, has devised a method to perform switches using a device resembling a mirror, bypassing the need for electrical conversions.
Referred to as “spaceborne optical switching technology,” this equipment was sent to space aboard a Y7 carrier rocket in August, marking the first such test on a satellite. The results were promising, with the device effectively transmitting light signals without the intermediary electrical conversion. Tests demonstrated that image information remained intact, and no data was lost during the transmission, according to the SCMP report.
The device boasts a reported switching capacity of 40 gigabits per second (Gbps), surpassing current technology. As advancements in supercomputing and 6G mobile communication necessitate the transmission of substantial data volumes, the photon-electron-photon switching method is projected to become a bottleneck in network communications. Scientists are eager to leverage optical approaches to handle the escalating demands and costs of switching facilities.
In an era where communication networks are expanding globally, shifting from terrestrial to three-dimensional configurations, satellite constellations are covering remote regions worldwide. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, for instance, has embraced laser-based communication between orbiting satellites instead of traditional radio waves, facilitating efficient data transmission. The recent breakthrough by Chinese scientists, while in its early stages, offers promise for the future of 6G communications. Overcoming existing limitations, such as reliance on American components and materials for satellite internet technology, is anticipated, paving the way for advancements and enhancements in this cutting-edge technology. The Xian Institute scientists are dedicated to refining and optimizing their technology through extensive testing and validation, propelling us closer to the 6G frontier.