Fibre optics have a new competitor, if a group of Italian scientists can get their claim of a new world record for wireless data transmission confirmed by the people who confirm such things. The scientists, based in Pisa, claim that during an uninterrupted 12-hour experiment, they achieved throughput speeds above 1.2 Terabits per second. They say the speeds beat the previous wireless data transmission speed record of 160 Gigabits per second, set by some speedy Koreans. The Italians also claimed these speeds were previously attainable only with fibre optics. That's fitting considering both methods involve communicating with light. Don't get too excited though, as there are major issues keeping this experiment from becoming widespread. At least, on earth.
Via the original article, the Harvard Broadband Communication Laboratory provides this explanation of Free-Space Optical Communications and gives some insight as to why this method doesn't work very well unless used under optimal conditions:
"Free space optical communications is a line-of-sight (LOS) technology that transmits a modulated beam of visible or infrared light through the atmosphere for broadband communications. In a manner similar to fibre optical communications, free space optics uses a light emitting diode (LED) or laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) point source for data transmission. However, in free space optics, an energy beam is collimated and transmitted through space rather than being guided through an optical cable. These beams of light, operating in the TeraHertz portion of the spectrum, are focused on a receiving lens connected to a high sensitivity receiver through an optical fibre."
The hurdles with this form of "wireless" are many, and it really only gets optimal speeds in places like space. Rain, fog and snow can all affect the transmission here on earth. Even wind has a tendency to make the beam "wander" off course. [Corriere Della Sella via Hot Hardware]