March 5, 2013 at 8:38 PM ET
Frustrated by slow Wi-Fi speeds? Researchers at Georgia Tech are working on antennas that could transfer your files so fast that you might miss it if you blink. Their solution uses graphene, a miracle material that is starting to affect many industries.
Graphene is a material made up of just a single-atom layer of carbon, giving it many interesting properties. One such property is that it conducts electricity extremely well, meaning it can replace silicon or metals in electronics, conferring huge improvements to speed and efficiency.
In this case, the team at Georgia Tech, led by Ian Akyildiz, is proposing an antenna made of the stuff. A graphene antenna could work at terahertz frequencies, far beyond the megahertz and gigahertz rates found in even the most advanced wireless devices today.
The end result could, under the right circumstances, provide data rates of up to 100 terabits per second, Akyildiz told MIT's Tech Review. That's enough to transfer the contents of any ordinary hard drive in just a fraction of a second — the blink of an eye.
More conservative estimates, which take into account greater distances between the antennas and other factors, still suggest terabit speeds would be achieved, requiring just a few seconds to transfer the contents of a 1 TB hard drive.
It's still very much just a theory, though; No one has built such an antenna and there are serious obstacles yet to tackle. Graphene is difficult to make in the first place, and many systems will have to be completely redesigned around it. But so many interesting applications for the material have been lofted that scientific minds all over the world are racing to find solutions.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.