Alphabet Inc’s moonshot factory X said that the Andhra Pradesh state government would buy its Free Space Optical Communications (FSOC) technology, a spin-off from its ‘Project Loon’ where it beams internet to Earth by flying balloons with the help of stratospheric winds. X claims the new technology will help it provide high-speed wireless internet to millions without digging trenches or stringing cable along poles.
AP State FiberNet, which is working with X to launch the project in 2018, has announced that it will be rolling out 2000 FSOC links as far as 20 kilometres apart on posts and rooftops to bring a wireless internet connection to the state. A team from Alphabet’s X was earlier running a pilot on FSOC technology in Andhra Pradesh.
These FSOC links will form part of the high-bandwidth backbone of the network, connecting rural and remote areas across the state. The links will plug critical gaps to major access points, like cell-towers and WiFi hotspots, that support thousands of people.
“FSOC links use beams of light to deliver high-speed, high-capacity connectivity over long distances – just like fiber optic cable, but without the cable. FSOC boxes can simply be placed kilometers apart on roofs or towers, with the signal beamed directly between the boxes to easily traverse common obstacles like rivers, roads and railways,” X said in a blog post.
Less than 20 per cent of people in Andhra Pradesh currently have access to broadband connectivity. The state government has committed to connecting 12 million households and thousands of government organizations and businesses by 2019 – an initiative called AP Fiber Grid.
Alphabet, which owns Google, and other online service providers view increasing internet accessibility in developing countries as crucial to maintaining their fast-growing businesses.
X plans to deploy free space optical technology, which transmits data through light beams at up to 20 gigabits per second between the rooftop boxes. There would be enough bandwidth for thousands of people to browse the Web simultaneously through the same cellphone tower, X said.
Researchers have said such systems hold promise in areas where linking cellphone towers to a wired connection is expensive and difficult. But the technology has not taken off because poor weather or misalignment between the boxes can weaken the connection.
Baris Erkmen, who is leading the effort inside X, said his team is “piloting a new approach” to overcome the challenges, but he did not specify the software and hardware advancements.
X plans to have a small team based in Andhra Pradesh next year to help roll out the technology.