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FSOC at X

Using beams of light to support the growing global demand for data

In development
Man works on FSOC installation in India.

The challenge

Global Internet traffic is projected to grow 24% annually. Fiber-optic cable can support this growth in demand, but rolling out an extensive fiber network often means deployment complications. Planning and digging trenches to lay lines can be time-consuming and costly, and tough terrain can pose physical challenges that make expansion nearly impossible. Because of the difficulties laying fiber in some places, there’s a significant divide in mobile internet speeds between the countries with the fastest internet and those with the slowest.

A potential solution to this problem arose during work on Project Loon. The Loon team needed to figure out a way to create a data link between balloons that were flying over 100 km apart. The team investigated the use of FSOC (Free Space Optical Communications) technology to establish high-throughput links between balloons. Like fiber, but without the wires, FSOC uses light to transmit high-speed data between two points.

After experiencing some early success with FSOC high in the stratosphere, the team began to wonder: would it be possible to apply some of that science to solve connectivity problems down a little closer to Earth?

There is a 7x difference in mobile internet speeds between the top 10 countries with the fastest internet, and those with the slowest — source: Opensignal

Design

Wireless fiber

  1. Flexibility

    With a clear line of sight, data can be transmitted between FSOC units kilometers apart to easily traverse common obstacles like rivers, roads, and railways.

  2. Long-Range

    Long range line-of-sight data transmissions at 10+ km.

  3. Easy to integrate

    Based on open standards to integrate seamlessly with existing networks.

  4. Plug and Play

    Quicker deployment over long distances in comparison to fiber-optic cable.

  5. High-Speed

    High-throughput supports 10-100s Gbps data rates.

Development

FSOC in India

The FSOC team recently partnered with AP Fiber to help bring high-speed, broadband connectivity to the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. FSOC links will form part of the high-bandwidth backbone of the state’s network, giving them a cost-effective, quickly deployed way to bring high-speed connectivity to remote areas. The links will help plug critical gaps to major access points, like cell towers and WiFi hotspots, to help thousands of people access the educational, business, and communication benefits of the web.

Currently, the FSOC team is in discussions with multiple other state representatives to help extend high-speed connectivity throughout India.

Smiling men in India look at cellphone.

Today

Getting the Internet to underserved locations

The X FSOC team is now focused on delivering 10+ Gbps connectivity over distances of 10+ km between each terminal, with rapid “out-of-the-box” deployability at scale. Although initially focused in India, the team welcomes conversations with Telcos, ISPs and global governments about the potential for FSOC technology to significantly accelerate the deployment of the extensive, high-throughput networks necessary to support the future of the web.

Several technicians in a lab behind diagnostic equipment.