Alphabet is Using Lasers to Connect to the Internet

Sunday, 17 December 2017 - 12:23PM
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Sunday, 17 December 2017 - 12:23PM
Alphabet is Using Lasers to Connect to the Internet
Alphabet
Considering what a hassle it is to get internet installed, you'd think that technology would eventually catch up with the times. And it might, as researchers look into alternatives to all the cables running this way and that.

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, created a fairly successful alternative through their X innovations lab called "Free Space Optical Communications," or FSOC. Described in an X labs press release as "just like fiber optic cable, but without the cable," FSOC relies on light beams to transmit high-speed internet connections to specialized receiver boxes, eliminating all the excess time and resources that go into laying cables everywhere.

The laser-guided internet will soon be set up in rural Andhra Pradesh, India, where local telecoms company AP State FiberNet placed an order for 2,000 of the FSOC boxes. As only 20 percent of the 53 million people in the state have internet access, X sees the light beams as a useful alternative in spots without the necessary cell towers or Wi-Fi hotspots.

In that same press release, Baris Erkmen of X labs described how these receiver boxes can be easily placed on rooftops or other locations, and link up with each other to transmit the light beams: 

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"And because there's no cable, this means there's none of the time, cost, and hassle involved in digging trenches or stringing cable along poles. FSOC boxes can simply be placed kilometers apart on roofs or towers, with the signal beamed directly between the boxes to easily traverse common obstacles like rivers, roads and railways."
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The idea for FSOC came from the invention X labs is currently most famous for: Project Loon, a collection of large balloons designed to float over remote regions and serve as mobile cell towers. It sounds crazy, but Project Loon has been running extremely smoothly thus far, recently being deployed to Puerto Rico, and FSOC was the perfect way for the floating Loon hubs to transmit data between each other.

Early tests of the light beam technology started last year, when Project Loon balloons were set up at intervals of 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) apart, and successfully transmitted copies of the 1985 movie Real Genius between each other. Once the digitized footage of Val Kilmer was successfully sent back and forth via light beams, the FSOC technology proved itself capable enough for some more ambitious tasks, closer to the ground.



The decision to start rolling out the FSOC receiver boxes in Andhra Pradesh fits into a wider initiative by the state government to create a stable source of internet throughout the region. And X labs is open to working with other partners as well, to transmit their internet beams in other locations around the world.

If it catches on, internet installation could eventually become as simple as placing a box on your building's roof, although internet service providers would likely still find a way to make it overcomplicated.

 
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