High-speed, cable-free, light-based internet is here

TECH NEWS. Researchers have succeeded in building a high-speed internet connection over the Congo River using airborne beams of light. The light net has its drawbacks, but it could be an innovative solution in the wild.


Now citizens in Brazzaville and Kinshasa can get faster and cheaper broadband internet connections using a new method. The Taara project is one of the so-called moonshot ideas of Alphabet X (formerly Google X). The project grew out of the now defunct Project Loon, a broadband project using balloons launched into the stratosphere.

In the latest experiment, a “particularly stubborn connectivity gap” between two African cities – Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo – has been bridged, the team wrote on its blog. The towns are just three miles apart, but connectivity is tricky because traditional cable has to be routed around the river, making broadband five times more expensive.

The X team reported that the wireless optical communications (WOC) system delivered nearly 700 terabytes of data in 20 days with 99.9% availability. “While we don’t expect perfect reliability in all weather conditions in the future, we are confident that Taara’s connections will continue to deliver similar performance and play a key role in providing fast and more affordable connectivity to the 17 million people living in these cities,” the blog says.

This is the latest iteration of a project three years in the making. X is working with Econet Group and Liquid Telecom to bring high-speed internet to sub-Saharan Africa and has begun commercial roll-out in Kenya. The system uses very narrowly invisible beams of light to achieve high speeds, similar to how traditional terrestrial fibre uses light to transmit data, but without a cable sheath. WOC trials have been conducted in the US, Mexico and India.



The technology, known as Free Space Optical Communications, grew out of experiments the team previously conducted using lasers to beam data between balloons as part of Project Loon, which was stopped by Alphabet in February because it was no longer considered commercially viable. This method is not perfect, and the team admits that it does not offer complete reliability in challenging conditions such as fog, mist or when birds cross the path of the signal stream.

But they have managed to improve it by adjusting the power of the transmitted laser, which works a bit like a telescope, relying on mirrors, lamps, software and hardware to point the beam exactly where it needs to go. The team also found a way to reduce the errors caused by interruptions, such as birds flying over the link. “While places like foggy San Francisco may never be ideal for WOC use, there are many, many places in the world with ideal weather conditions for Taara’s links,” the blog says.

Other Alphabet X research projects also seek solutions to problems on a global scale:

  • Mineral – an experiment to develop new technology to build a more sustainable food system.
  • Tidal – improving the health of the oceans
  • Everyday Robot Project – to develop robots that can perform useful tasks in everyday life.


Source: XCompany Blog

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