Alphabet project uses light beams to bring broadband to remote regions
An Alphabet X innovation lab project has been working on a high-speed wireless optical communications network that uses beams of light instead of cables or radio waves, and folks in Kenya will be the first to benefit from the fruits of these labors.
I'm writing this article on a laptop connected to high-speed fiber broadband, but only recently I was reminded how fortunate I am when a friend in France complained of only ever getting near dial-up connection speeds at best, thanks to living in a poorly served rural location. And, according to the GSMA's State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2020 report, some 4 billion people around the globe can't get online at all.
Project Taara, a part of Alphabet's X moonshot factory, has been working on a wireless optical technology that could deliver high-speed, high-capacity connectivity to remote areas using a network of light emitters and receivers. The initiative has now partnered with the Econet Group to install its technology in Sub-Saharan Africa, starting with Kenya.
Rather than rely on cables to carry data, which can prove challenging or costly to roll out in the region, Project Taara will send information at up to 20 Gbps using a narrow, invisible beam of light. The beam is transmitted between Taara terminals to create a network of line-of-sight data links, with up to 20 km (12 mi) between two links possible.
There does need to be a constant flow of data between the links, so engineers place the terminals high above ground on poles, rooftops and towers.
The technology has already undergone pilot testing in Kenya (and India) and will now roll out from existing Liquid Telecom (a subsidiary of Econet) fiber optic networks to serve remote areas beyond the reach of traditional solutions – such as over bodies of water, through forests, national parks and post-conflict zones. It is hoped that the optical network could also help to plug coverage gaps of cell towers and Wi-Fi hotspots.
Light beams are not the only way Alphabet and others are looking to get people in remote areas online, with fleets of large internet-beaming balloons and a constellation of satellites being just a couple of noteworthy examples.
Source: Project Taara