Alphabet experiment uses invisible beams of light to create affordable high-speed internet link across Congo River from Brazzaville to Kinshasa
Google parent Alphabet has used beams of light to create an internet connection across the Congo River, in an offshoot of the now-defunct Project Loon.
Alphabet shut down Project Loon in February after deciding the scheme, which involved the use of balloons to provide internet connectivity in hard-to-reach areas, was not commercially viable.
But the company decided to try to repurpose the wireless optical communications (WOC) technology it had used to allow the balloons to communicate with one another.
In an experiment called Project Taara – named after the Estonian god of lightning – engineers set up an internet connection across the Congo River, linking Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The cities are only three miles apart, but internet connectivity costs five times more in Kinshasa because providers have to lay down about 250 miles of cable to route around the river.
Project Taara instead creates a direct link from Brazzaville to Kinshasa across the river. Within 20 days the link served nearly 700 TB of data with 99.9 percent availability, Alphabet said.
The technology works in much the same way as a fibre-optic connection, except that no cable is involved, with two terminals instead linking to one another over line-of-sight.
This means the link can be disturbed by weather conditions such as rain or fog, birds flying through the beam, or, as in a pilot in India, curious monkeys jostling the terminal.
But Alphabet X, the company’s experimental projects division (formerly Google X), said it has been able to mitigate such problems through improved pointing and tracking and automatic adjustments to laser power or processing bits on the fly.
“These techniques… (have) 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,” said Taara director of engineering Baris Erkmen in a blog post.
He said that while cities such as San Francisco wouldn’t be ideal for the technique, many other places present “ideal weather conditions” for Taara.
The ability to deliver “high-speed internet (up to 20 Gbps) most of the time” is better than no connectivity at all, or an unaffordable link, as in Kinshasa.
The initiative is part of an ongoing collaboration with Econet and its subsidiaries, in this case Liquid Intelligent Technologies.
“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,” Erkmen said.