Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have designed a graphene-based antenna that could potentially allow for data transfer rates as high as a terabit per second over a metre range.

The system, developed by a team from the Broadband Wireless Networking Laboratory at Georgia Tech led by director Ian Akyildiz, uses graphene - sheets of carbon just one atom thick arrayed in a honeycomb structure - to create narrow strips between 10 and 100 nanometres wide and one micrometer long, forming terahertz frequency antennas. Electrons oscillating on the surface of each graphene strip, known as plasmonic waves, interact with electromagnetic waves at the terahertz frequency in order to receive or transmit a signal.

According to the team's calculations, such a terahertz radio system could transfer data at a rate of one terabit per second - roughly 2,330 times faster than 802.11n Wi-Fi. While that is only sustainable at a range of a metre or less, as a close-range data-transfer tool the team's graphene-based antenna could prove extremely useful indeed: drop the range to a handful of centimetres and the data transfer rate could reach as high as 100 terabits per second.

Such a system could be a boon for external peripherals that rely on the transfer of large quantities of data. A high-definition video camera, for example, could dump all its footage in under a second just by being placed near a laptop or desktop equipped with the team's antenna, or a smartphone quickly download rented or purchased films for on-the-go viewing.

Sadly, as is often the case with such 'breakthroughs' involving the wonder-material graphene, the technology is far from a commercial reality just yet. '[The team's work] points out and provides a set of classical calculations on estimates of sizes and performance: it points out that there is something worthwhile here' explained Phaedon Avouris, IBM research fellow and graphene expert, in an interview on the subject with MIT Technology Review. It doesn’t solve the whole problem, but points out an opportunity.'

The team's work, which has up to this point been purely theoretical, will need proving with a prototype device - something Akyildiz claims is due for unveiling before the end of the year - and then the antenna will need to be mated to other high-performance hardware in order to reach anywhere near the terabit speeds promised. However, with the research due to appear in the IEEE Journal of Selected Areas in Communication in the coming year, those are problems that are likely to get many eyes eager to help make the next big breakthrough in high-speed wireless communications possible.