Alphabet is using beams of light to deliver wireless connectivity over long distances

Shawn Knight

Posts: 12,692   +124
Staff member
The big picture: Alphabet subsidy X (formerly Google X) has been working for the last few years on ways to bridge the digital divide in parts of the world that are underserved. Specifically, the moonshot factory has been experimenting with high-speed, high-capacity connectivity over long distances using light beams.

Project Taara (formerly called The FSOC Project) aims to do just that by using very narrow, invisible beams of light to transmit data over long distances. At present, the tech can cover a distance of up to 20 kilometers (around 12.4 miles) and can transmit bandwidth of up to 20 Gbps+. And soon, it’ll be put to the test in the real world.

X is working with Econet and its subsidiaries, Liquid Telecom and Econet Group, to install Taara links in Kenya to supply high-speed Internet to regions where it is too costly, dangerous or otherwise challenging to lay fiber optic cables.

According to Mahesh Krishnaswamy, the director for Project Taara, this is the first rollout of the tech in Africa following pilots in the same region in 2019.

Because the tech works via line-of-sight, terminals will be placed on tall towers, poles and rooftops to minimize the possibility of the signal being interrupted.

Alphabet is also inviting other network operators and service providers to reach out and see if Taara is a good fit for their applications.

Permalink to story.

 

Mr Majestyk

Posts: 503   +420
What wavelength(s) are they using, I assume IR maybe in the 1000-2000 micron wavelength range, but would be nice to know.
 

Endymio

Posts: 1,079   +900
What wavelength(s) are they using, I assume IR maybe in the 1000-2000 micron wavelength range, but would be nice to know.
I assume you mean nanometers, not microns. I had the same question, but couldn't find it anywhere on their (somewhat annoying) project website. It could theoretically be visible spectrum, but I'd assume it would be NIR, probably in the 1550nm range.
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 7,597   +6,114
Sounds like the first days of focused beam microwaves ..... but a lot less dangerous .....
 

Alfatawi Mendel

Posts: 80   +136
I was installing kit like this 20 years ago...Line-of-sight Laser networking.
The most we managed was 2 miles though. (100mb/s) Any further than that and the signal degraded too much - especially in rain or snow.
Plus...they were a bugger to line up properly.
 

Endymio

Posts: 1,079   +900
I was installing kit like this 20 years ago...Line-of-sight Laser networking.
The most we managed was 2 miles though. (100mb/s) Any further than that and the signal degraded too much - especially in rain or snow.
It all depends on signal power and encoding: they're claiming 20GB/s at 20km ranges. And of course snow is not much of a problem in Kenya, and even the rainfall tends to be light in most areas.
 
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wiyosaya

Posts: 5,486   +3,582
I was installing kit like this 20 years ago...Line-of-sight Laser networking.
The most we managed was 2 miles though. (100mb/s) Any further than that and the signal degraded too much - especially in rain or snow.
Plus...they were a bugger to line up properly.
All good points. I assume Alphabet chose a wavelength that is minimally absorbed by atmospheric conditions. If they make the beam wide enough and with enough power, alignment might not be a difficult task.

Presumably, both ends would need to be able to transmit, and alignment might be more difficult on the consumer end - which may make installation of this cost prohibitive for "limited wealth" countries. This sounds like it might be targeted as ISPs though that could probably afford it.
 
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All good points. I assume Alphabet chose a wavelength that is minimally absorbed by atmospheric conditions. If they make the beam wide enough and with enough power, alignment might not be a difficult task.

Presumably, both ends would need to be able to transmit, and alignment might be more difficult on the consumer end - which may make installation of this cost prohibitive for "limited wealth" countries. This sounds like it might be targeted as ISPs though that could probably afford it.
Yeah it seems like a city could afford it, and they could provide some limited Wi-Fi and Internet to a municipal location, such as a public building, courthouse, clinic or school. That would be pretty significant for a place that’s never had Internet.
You’re correct, though, I left the article wondering what the practical application would be. Interesting, nonetheless.
 

Mugsy

Posts: 679   +122
"Beams of light to deliver connectivity over long distances".

Isn't this exactly how satellites work? SMH.
 

wiyosaya

Posts: 5,486   +3,582
"Beams of light to deliver connectivity over long distances".

Isn't this exactly how satellites work? SMH.
Technically, no. Atmospheric absorption would be a problem if satellites used light. They use em radiation in what is generally considered the radio wave bands - and often into the microwave radiation bands.
 
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Mugsy

Posts: 679   +122
Technically, no. Atmospheric absorption would be a problem if satellites used light. They use em radiation in what is generally considered the radio wave bands - and often into the microwave radiation bands.
Aren't "em radiation" waves part of the (non-visible light) spectrum?
 

Endymio

Posts: 1,079   +900
Aren't "em radiation" waves part of the (non-visible light) spectrum?
We rarely refer to wavelengths below infrared as "light", nor those above ultraviolet either, though yes, they're all EM radiation. Alphabet's predecessor project to this used high-altitude balloons communicating with each other with infrared lasers to form the basic grid, with ground communications performed by microwave-frequency LTE.
 
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Digitalzone

Posts: 142   +78
RONJA (Reasonable Optical Near Joint Access) is a free-space optical communication system originating in the Czech Republic, developed by Karel Kulhavý of Twibright Labs and released in 2001. It transmits data wirelessly using beams of light. Ronja can be used to create a 10 Mbit/s full duplex Ethernet point-to-point link. It has been estimated that 1000 to 2000 links have been built worldwide [4]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RONJA
 

Ozmiz

Posts: 18   +22
I was installing kit like this 20 years ago...Line-of-sight Laser networking.
The most we managed was 2 miles though. (100mb/s) Any further than that and the signal degraded too much - especially in rain or snow.
Plus...they were a bugger to line up properly.
I thought the same thing when I read the article.
Certainly nothing new.

And YES! It was a peta to line up.