Using lasers for backhaul Internet

You can now add lasers to the list of Internet delivery methods available. Here’s what you need to know about a new combined optic and Millimeter wireless technology being pitched.

laser lead image
Credit: AOptix

Cost is the principal reason lasers could be a highly attractive alternative to fiber for backhaul and remote areas. Fiber is expensive to lay, and often the rural nature of the application means that there aren’t enough customers to pay it.

Campbell, California-based AOptix reckons it’s got an alternative to fiber with a hybrid laser and Millimeter spectrum setup.

What is it?

Laser-delivered Internet utilizes a combination of optics, along with Millimeter-wave radio frequencies.

The combination of the two carriers should theoretically offset issues with disruption due to inclement weather—fog can disrupt laser, for example, and rain can affect Millimeter.

Algorithms are used to combine output from the two technologies. The redundancy thus provides reliability, according to AOptix, the company that is developing the technology.

The technology

Wireless hops can be up to 10 kilometers with COR, or Composite Optical RF, and multiple hops can be strung together in a repeater fashion.

Speeds are two gigabits per second, according to Tom Simonite, who recently wrote about the technology in MIT’s Technology Review.

Simonite also says that three major un-identified U.S. Internet carriers are trialing the technology.

Backhaul and Last mile

It’s not just the money, though. Even fiber roll-outs in cities can be problematic with bureaucracy and neighborhood-level NIMBY-ism slowing projects, according to AOptix.

It says its product is faster to roll out.

Radio

In addition, classic microwave radio spectrum can be difficult to use because of interference and congestion.

Competition for suitable frequencies can be fierce. Many frequencies just aren’t available—they’ve been auctioned off to licensees for mobile networks.

I’ve recently written about unused spectrum between television channels potentially taking up some of the Last mile slack too, in “TV’s white space re-purposing for Internet is rolling.”

Financial markets

Along with mobile backhaul, fiber extension, Last mile, and path diversity—where Internet is taken along multiple routes to provide hardening—the developer reckons financial markets are a good use for this tech.

Financial markets come into play because COR is conceivably faster point-to-point than fiber. AOptix says that its transport solution for financial markets can transmit data 50% faster than fiber, partly because it can shorten the path between sending and receiving points.

Low latency is important for trading, where microseconds affect prices.

AOptix has been working for some time with a company called Anova Technologies to provide the financial system path architecture.

Disasters

Ad hoc is another possible use for laser. Internet capacity can conceivably be deployed by first responders using COWs, or Cellular On Wheels, a mobile platform used to provide communications and connectivity during disasters.

Implementations

AOptix says that a Mexican backhaul Internet provider called Car-sa has deployed its laser-based Internet connection and will be actively using laser links in the future to provide backhaul to mobile network operators, communications service providers, and big companies in Mexico.

Simonite, in his article, says COR is also being used to help build out Internet in Nigeria. Nigeria was recently hooked up to a new Internet pipe from Europe.

So, if this technology can be made to work well over the long haul, and that means through harsh winters and wind, which can rock masts and affect aim, we may be seeing another delivery mechanism to add to our arsenal.

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