Alphabet X’s subsidiary, Moonshot Factory, says its laser broadband service delivered nearly 700TB of data in its first 20 days of operation, with 99.9% uptime.
Called Project Taara, the network is powered by wireless optical communications (WOC) links which are based between Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo and Kinasha in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These sites are separated by 4.8 km across the Congo River.
This laser array emits high precision light signals between terminals and is based on the teachings of a previous experiment in which X emitted lasers between stratospheric balloons.
The project aims to close connectivity gaps and expand global access at fiber-like speeds to rural and poorest areas of the world, without the need for fiber cables.
Internet connectivity in Kinasha, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is currently five times more expensive than in Brazzaville, despite the relatively short distance between the two cities. Much of this is because fiber optic cables have to be routed over 400 km around the river to reach Kinasha.
“Being able to provide high-speed internet access (up to 20 Gbps) most of the time is a much better option than letting millions of people miss out on the benefits of connectivity,” said CEO. Taara’s engineering, Baris Erkmen, “because the economy of laying hundreds of kilometers of cables in the ground just doesn’t hold up.
“My team and I are delighted to bring these technical advances to the banks of the Congo River to help provide the people of Brazzaville and Kinshasa with access to faster and more affordable connectivity.
The technology works the same way traditional fiber optic cables use light to carry data underground, with Taara using narrow, invisible beams of light to transmit signals over vast distances.
To successfully establish a link, Taara terminals seek each other out, detect each other’s light beam, and lock together like a handshake to create a high-bandwidth connection.
These beams of light are about the width of a rod, according to X, and must be precise enough to hit a 5cm target that could be up to 10km away.
This form of network has traditionally not been considered viable, as signal reliability is often compromised by adverse weather conditions such as fog or haze. Disturbances can also be caused by birds flying past the signal.
X worked to address some of these concerns during the development of the Taara project. For example, this is refined atmospheric detection, mirror controls and motion detection so that the terminals automatically adjust to maintain an accurate connection. By automatically adjusting to such things as the amount of laser power transmitted, link reliability has also improved significantly.
While its developers admit that places “like foggy San Francisco” may never be ideal for the WOC, there are many places around the world where the weather conditions are ideal for the Taara Links.
The future of the project will therefore be largely determined by the regions of the world which have favorable weather conditions for an annual availability of more than 99%.
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