AOptix's laser-radio tech could be Internet's future

The ubiquity of mobile devices is starting to push the limits of the Internet's infrastructure to the breaking point. Add that to the fact that a lot more regions don't have quality connections or don't have Internet at all, and you have a scenario where service providers are scrambling to add more and more cables, especially fiber optic ones, on land and on sea. But such installations cost time, money, and, in some cases, political will. AOptix's solution is cheaper as it uses a combination of laser and radio waves to bring the Internet anywhere.

Fiber optic cables, in theory, are the ideal transmission channel for high volume data given the speed and reliability improvements over copper wires. But even proponents of the technology admit that materials are quite expensive and that adding new cables to the Internet's existing lines requires not just time and money, but a lot of labor and negotiating in getting lines laid down. The answer, then, perhaps can be found in switching to wireless technology, and AOptix's laser-radio combo tries to provide that answer to some extent.

AOptix uses both laser links and radio links in order to compensate for the weaknesses of both. Laser doesn't work in foggy situations while radio waves are affected by rain. Sending data over both types of media ensures that transmission works in any given weather condition and that there is added redundancy. The device, a box the size of a coffee table, looks like the head of Wall-E (or "Johnny Five"), with one eye for the infrared laser and the other for directional millimeter wave radio. Each box can be daisy chained to another one 10 km away to form one long Internet line.

The solution is far from perfect, of course. The laser-radio box can transmit data at a guaranteed speed of of 2 Gbps. That's about one-tenth the speed of fiber and is surely to disappoint some users who expect super fast connections and no buffering in this day and age. It's not a done deal, however, and AOptix is confident it can push the gigabyte rate higher in the near future. Plus, the convenience and cost savings make compelling arguments, especially for areas that don't even have any lines at all. As such, AOptix's technology is unlikely to completely replace fiber optic or even copper lines any time soon and could be simply used in addition to these options. Three US mobile carriers are reportedly testing the technology now, while Mexico and Nigeria are already on their way to implementing it.

SOURCE: MIT Technology Review