Broadband cable can move about 30 megabits per second, so the twisted-light system transmits more than 85,000 times more data per second, scientists at the University of Southern California, which led the research, reported Monday.
The technology has potential applications for high-speed satellite communication links, short free-space terrestrial links or could be adapted for use in the fiber optic cables used by some Internet service providers, researchers said.
"You're able to do things with light that you can't do with electricity," Alan Willner, a USC electrical engineering professor, said. "That's the beauty of light; it's a bunch of photons that can be manipulated in many different ways at very high speed."
The researchers used beam-twisting "phase holograms" to manipulate eight beams of light so each one twisted in a helical shape as it traveled. Each beam had its own individual twist and was encoded with "1" and "0" data bits, making each an independent data stream.
The researchers used the beams to transit data over open space in a laboratory, simulating the kind of communications that might occur between satellites in space.
The work extended research conducted at several European universities.
"We didn't invent the twisting of light, but we took the concept and ramped it up to a terabit-per-second," Willner said.