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Beaming broadband across the Congo River
September 16, 2021

Beaming broadband across the Congo River

Taara’s wireless optical communications links are now beaming light-speed connectivity from Brazzaville to Kinshasa across the Congo River

Written by Baris Erkmen, Director of Engineering for Taara

What if we could bring fiber-like speeds to unconnected and underserved communities that, because of the geography or cost, fiber can’t reach? What if we could use what we learned beaming lasers between stratospheric balloons in the skies down here on earth? What if sacrificing a small amount of signal reliability actually led to millions more people around the world having access to faster, cheaper internet?

These are just some of the questions the Project Taara team and I have been exploring as we work to plug connectivity gaps and expand global access to fast, affordable and abundant internet using wireless optical communication links. I’m delighted to share that working with Liquid Intelligent Technologies we recently helped bridge a particularly stubborn connectivity gap between Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Separated by the Congo River, the world’s deepest and second fastest river, Brazzaville and Kinshasa are only 4.8 kilometers apart — yet connectivity is five times more expensive in Kinshasa because the fiber connection has to travel more than 400 kms to route around the river.

After installing Taara’s links to beam connectivity over the river, Taara’s link served nearly 700 TB of data  — the equivalent of watching a FIFA World Cup match in HD 270,000 times —  in 20 days with 99.9% availability. While we don’t expect to see perfect reliability in all kinds of weather and conditions in the future, we’re confident Taara’s links will continue to deliver similar performance and will play a key role in bringing faster, more affordable connectivity to the 17 million people living in these cities.

Taara uses beams of light to deliver high-speed, high-capacity connectivity over long distances. By creating a series of links from our partner’s fiber optic network over ground to underserved areas Taara’s links can relay high-speed, high-quality internet to people. 

Mirrors, mapping, and invisible handshakes: how Taara's technology is delivering connectivity

In the same way traditional fibre uses light to carry data through cables in the ground, Taara’s wireless optical communication links use very narrow, invisible beams of light to deliver fiber-like speeds. To create a link, Taara’s terminals search for each other, detect the other’s beam of light, and lock-in like a handshake to create a high-bandwidth connection.

For a long time wireless optical communications (WOC) haven’t been considered a viable option because the signal reliability is compromised by conditions like fog and haze, or interruptions like birds flying in front of the signal. Over the last few years we’ve been working to overcome some of these challenges in three key ways:

  • Refining pointing and tracking capabilities: Imagine pointing a light beam the width of a chopstick accurately enough to hit a 5-centimeter target (about the size of a US quarter) that's 10 kilometers away; that’s how accurate the signal needs to be to be strong and reliable. Over the last few years we’ve been refining our atmospheric sensing, mirror controls and motion detection capabilities so that Taara’s terminals automatically adjust to changes in the environment to maintain this precise connection.
  • Mitigating changes in the environment: The bumpy realities of operating technology out in the physical world mean that we’ve had to find creative ways to automatically adapt to environmental changes — like monkeys jostling Taara’s terminals during pilots in India. By automatically adjusting things like the amount of laser power we’re transmitting, or how we’re processing bits on the fly, the reliability of our links has greatly improved. These techniques combined with better pointing and tracking capabilities has meant that when Taara’s beam has been affected by haze, light rain, or birds (or a curious monkey) we’ve not seen any service interruptions.
  • Developing network planning tools: While places like foggy San Francisco may never be an ideal spot to use WOC, there are many, many places around the world with ideal weather conditions for Taara’s links. We’ve developed network planning tools that  estimate WOC availability based on factors like weather, so we can install Taara links in places where they're best suited. The below map shows visibility conditions for WOC performance globally. The areas in red are promising locations where we expect to see better than 99% annual availability.

Better tracking accuracy, automated environmental responses and better planning tools are helping Taara's links deliver reliable high-speed bandwidth to places that fiber can't reach, and helping us connect communities that are cut off from traditional ways of delivering connectivity. We're really excited about these advances, and are looking forward to building on them as we continue developing and refining Taara's capabilities.

Taara links beaming internet.

A demonstration of Taara's pointing and tracking system finding optical alignment. 

Visibility conditions for wireless optical communications

Visibility conditions for WOC performance globally. 

When 99% is actually 100X better

Being able to deliver high-speed internet (up to 20 Gbps) most of the time is a vastly better option than having millions of people miss out on the benefits of connectivity because the economics of laying hundreds of kilometers of cable in the ground simply don’t stack up. My team and I are delighted to be bringing these technical advances to the banks of the Congo River to help provide people in Brazzaville and Kinshasa with access to faster, more affordable connectivity. This initiative is part of our overall efforts with Econet and its subsidiaries to expand and enhance affordable, high-speed internet to communities across their networks in Sub-Saharan Africa. If you’re a network or internet provider wanting to explore how Taara’s technology could help you plug critical gaps in your network please get in touch.

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