Optical Wireless: The Next High-Speed Internet Connection

Posted by: T. Lacoma on Friday, April 12th, 2013

Optical broadband is an older technology that has found a new market this decade thanks to better development and growing demand for alternative wireless sources that can be used instead of landlines. For people living in cities, the optical solution offers high-speed, reliable Internet connections through a fascinating, unique medium.

Defining Optical Wireless: Light Instead of Radio

The optical version of wireless technology is far from new, but limitations in development moved focus over landline networks. Only in 2010 did companies begin to give more serious consideration to optical solutions, which use infrared light created by LEDs (light-emitting diodes) to communicate data instead of radio waves.

You may be reminded of another wireless technology that uses light — fiber-optic lines. Optical broadband systems, however, use a beam of light to transmit data between locations. Usually the final device switches to a Wi-Fi adapter or fiber-optic cables (which work better with modern devices), but the load is carried by infrared lasers before this point.

Capabilities and Considerations

Optical wireless technology can reach beyond 1.5 miles, thanks to highly concentrated beams. Optical wireless networks are often constructed in vast webs that cover large portions of a city — a version was installed on Wall Street in 2013 by Aoptix, for example.

Capacity for the infrared system ranges between 100 Mbps and 1.25 Gbps for top models, with larger capacity planned for coming years. The technology is entirely safe for humans.

Key Benefits Compared to Typical Wireless Technology

Optical wireless systems are highly versatile. The devices that transmit or received the infrared signs can be set up on nearly any building surface, and there is no need for expensive digging and excavation to install physical lines.

Systems can be configured for myriad different connections, from ATM and FDDI to Gigabit Ethernet and SONET/SDS. The speeds at which optical wireless operates, within the spacious limits of the optical network, offer far faster data travel than other wireless technologies.

In typical wireless technology, obstacles and competing radio waves can slow down Internet connections. Optical versions can suffer from similar disabilities, caused by sharp changes in temperature or rain. Even considering these potential weakness, however, optical speeds can outpace regular wireless and far outpace data transmission through physical lines, including broadband and cable.

Who Is Optical Wireless Technology Designed For?

For now, developers are pushing optical technologies for commercial and city use, not home use — although those living in cities do stand to benefit, especially as optical transmissions grow more popular. In emerging markets such as India and Brazil, optical broadband solutions have strong potential, since there is no existing framework to compete with. In the end, the wireless solution can be used in any area where fiber-optic cable is too expensive or difficult to use.

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