The world of quantum mechanics seems as nebulous as ever, defying all the norms we are used to when it comes to normal day-to-day operations.
One particular application of quantum principles is quantum tunneling in wireless communications — including the transfer of data.
I've written about other quantum applications and for years have been actively involved in the world of AI. As this field is likely to be impacted by developments from quantum computing to quantum tunneling, I have followed the latest developments in the quantum world.
It’s easy to think that permeating and passing through unpassable barriers is, essentially, impossible. But this is exactly where quantum tunneling goes against all the odds we have believed in for so long: This phenomenon implies particles quite literally tunneling through seemingly unbreakable energy barriers.
Of course, tunneling paints a strong visual image of the particle drilling through the barrier. But in the quantum world and on such a small scale, the phenomenon doesn’t abide by the regular explanations we would normally use. Instead, tunneling operates as a measure of probability — while the particles are likened to an oscillating wave when they encounter a barrier, they don’t get disrupted or stopped. Instead, the wave continues oscillating within the barrier as well, making "tunneling" simply the probability of discovering the particle on the opposite side of the wall.
With the basics of quantum tunneling clarified, it’s important to understand the implications of such technological advancements on a larger scale.
Recently, scientists from three international universities — Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), Moscow Pedagogical State University and the University of Manchester — created a highly-sensitive terahertz detector. The teams created the "detector based on the effect of quantum-mechanical tunneling in graphene."
What this means is that, while we have come to believe that the most advanced wireless communication methods are driven by 5G networks, this discovery, in fact, makes it possible to surpass the 5G connectivity capabilities and step away from traditional semiconductors and superconductors used for communication transfer. This graphene detector has brought forth the possibility of applications "in wireless communications, security systems, radio astronomy, and medical diagnostics."
Traditionally, information is transferred through wireless networks through high-frequency electromagnetic waves and into the shape of bits sequenced discretely — a technique otherwise identified as signal modulation. In order to increase the speed of bit transfer, it’s necessary to modify the frequency of modulation as well as increase the carrier frequency. To get a better understanding of how different types of information are transmitted wirelessly here are some examples of frequencies at which communication occurs:
• FM-radio usually transmits at a 100 megahertz frequency.
• Wi-Fi receivers typically transmit at about a five gigahertz frequency.
• 5G mobile networks can typically transmit up to 20 gigahertz signals.
The higher the carrier frequency, the more data is possible to transmit — but going above and beyond 100 gigahertz in frequency for a transfer is a real challenge we face today. The reason for this inefficiency is that the system in place for sending and receiving information is outdated — in fact, it has been in use since the age of radio and television.
The widely used elements of this process consist of transistor-based amplifiers and demodulators, which amplify weak signals while correcting the bit sequences of the signal. This system is a poor fit in the age of mobile technology as a primary method of communication when the transfer of hundreds of gigahertz in frequencies is required. The systems simply aren’t fast and strong enough.
Here is where quantum tunneling comes in.
The new solution introduced the possibility of completely eliminating the amplification and modulation as separate steps in the transmission process. Instead, the new system uses one transistor — or a tunneling transistor — with the single mission of transforming a modulated signal into a bit sequence.
The tunneling transistor’s high sensitivity very quickly and effectively identifies a terahertz signal. In other words, no matter how low the frequency is, this new transistor is intended to easily pick up on the signal due to its high levels of sensitivity. This new kind of transistor is built with two layers of graphene — a material in which the position of energy levels is easily controlled through electric voltage.
While this is only the beginning of a breakthrough, I believe it already foreshadows a lot of changes in the telecom industry and wireless communication.
The new possibilities of fast transmission of large amounts of data have the capability to impact enterprises and businesses on a wide scale.
With higher transfer capabilities, businesses will be able to streamline internal and external operations almost instantly, increasing the speed of data transfer and maximizing the efficiency of day-to-day.
With more companies going digital and increasing the amounts of data they have in storage, it will become possible to store, analyze and tap into these repositories of information in a matter of seconds. Transmitting them at a distance will also occur in a matter of seconds.
It will also be possible to expand the net of internal devices and thus increase the overall power of the technical infrastructure as the backbone of a digital-first company. In an increasingly remote world, organizations operating on a global and scattered scale will potentially maximize their productivity with more efficient internal connectivity between employees and devices scattered at a large distance.
In other words, while quantum tunneling is still in the stage of development and research for telecommunications, it is indicative of a larger shift coming in the not so distant future — and that future is faster, more efficient and not always compliant with the notions we have about how communications work on a regular basis.
Originally published in Forbes