China Successfully Tests Optical Satellite Communication Technology for Future 6G Networks
A group of Chinese scientists has announced the creation of a communication device that could play a pivotal role in advancing 6G networks. The equipment, based on “space optical switching technology,” was launched for testing in orbit in August 2023, and it can transmit light signals without converting them into electrical pulses. The team from the Xi’an Institute of Optics and Precision Mechanics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, reported that the space trials were successful.
Traditional communication switching devices usually convert light signals into electrical ones during data transmission. However, this conventional photon-electron-photon method suffers from an “electronic bottleneck,” while an optical approach can maximize the speed and capacity of data exchange systems. This new method can also reduce the costs of building specialized communication infrastructure.
The team of Chinese researchers dedicated over a decade to developing a device that enhances data transmission capabilities, flexibility, and speed. They believe that “next-generation communication networks, including 6G, will extend beyond terrestrial communication and become a global network, including satellite nodes.” According to an article they published last year, the new technology supports data transmission speeds of up to 40 gigabits per second.
Traditional “satellite-to-ground” communication relies on radio signals, but data transmission rates are relatively low due to the limited range of frequencies used. Hence, there is a growing emphasis on optical information exchange technologies, particularly lasers. The bandwidth of lasers can potentially reach several hundred gigahertz, allowing more data to be packed into each transmission.
The scientists are confident that traditional switching devices will struggle to exceed a data transmission speed of 100 gigabytes per second due to bandwidth constraints. Therefore, it’s crucial to develop a more advanced optical data exchange system. They highlight that this is especially relevant for interplanetary communication, as optical switching can be more efficient, faster, compact, and cost-effective.
Despite the recent breakthrough by the Chinese team, researchers say there is still a long way to go before the new technology is practically applied. Satellite internet in China, including space optical switching technology, still lags behind the United States in some critical components and technologies, where American companies hold dominance. Currently, several companies in the industry, such as Elon Musk’s Starlink, are experimenting with optical inter-satellite data transmission methods.
- I'm Martin Harris, a tech writer with extensive experience, contributing to global publications. Trained in Computer Science, I merged my technical know-how with writing, becoming a technology journalist. I've covered diverse topics like AI and consumer electronics, contributing to top tech platforms. I participate in tech events for knowledge updating. Besides writing, I enjoy reading, photography, and aim to clarify technology's complexities to readers.
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