Alphabet Taara Delivered 700 TB of Fiber Internet with 99.9% Uptime

Why is it important: For years, companies like Google and Facebook have explored ways to provide Internet connectivity solutions to people in remote areas around the world. The latest effort uses 20 Gbps wireless optical links that were developed for Google Project Loon to connect communities where fiber infrastructure is too complex and expensive to implement.

Google has researched many bold projects over the years, but most of them never got commercialized, apart from a few test runs. This is because the company has cultivated a culture of accepting failure as a way to test ideas and quickly eliminate bad ones before they consume too many resources.

A notable example comes to mind – Project Loon, which was disbanded in January after Google discovered that sending helium balloons into the stratosphere to spread wireless Internet to more than a billion people living in remote areas was not commercially viable.

However, some of the underlying technologies have been retained for use in other Google X lab projects. In particular, the company used free space optical communication (FSOC) channels for a little-known experiment called Taara Project

Taara’s idea is that expensive fiber systems can be replaced with 20 Gbps FSOC links, providing short distance connectivity. The project has already undergone several pilots in Kenya and India, and today the company announced that it is also using this wireless optical link to connect two communities on the banks of the Congo River – Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a population of over 17 million. …

Baris Erkmen, project manager for Taara, says the channel has successfully transferred about 700 terabytes of data in 20 days of operation with a decent 99.9% uptime. Getting this optical technology to work over 3 miles (4.8 km) is not an easy task, as it requires minute, constant adjustments to align the laser beam with the receiver assembly.

To this end, the nodes are positioned high and can automatically adjust their mirror system to maintain a stable connection even with optical interference from birds and changing weather conditions. The Project Taara team has spent countless hours improving the reliability of FSOC nodes to the point where engineers are confident they can operate with minimal service interruption.

As you would expect, this system will not work in areas with persistent fog, such as the San Francisco Bay Area. This is why the Project Taara team decided to conduct these tests in a location where climatic conditions allow relatively good visibility between optical terminals.

However, the cost of this system is five times less than trying to lay 250 miles (400 km) of fiber around a river or laying the infrastructure required for 5G connectivity. Although not suitable for all locations, it has the ability to connect hundreds of millions of people in remote areas to the Internet in a more cost-effective way. The red areas on the map above indicate where Google believes the technology could be implemented to deliver more than 99% uptime.

Overall, the lesson learned by the Taara engineers is that you can sacrifice a small amount of signal reliability to provide fiber-optic Internet speeds to communities of people who might not otherwise be able to afford the cost of a wired backbone. To them, this new technology would be indistinguishable from the traditional broadband that most of us use in sprawling urban centers.

The Project Taara team says it is currently exploring partnerships with governments and carriers to accelerate the development and deployment of wireless optical communications in more regions around the world.

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