The Latest Threat to Fiber Networks: LasersWith apologies to Dr. Evil, I have one simple request: Internet with frickin’ lasers. Lasers are cool. The Internet is cool. Combining the two sounds like one of the best ideas since peanut butter and jelly. But, until recently, the problem was that practical industrial lasers have been more sci-fi than not. Now, though, the technology is real. The military is already using a laser communication system, and like all military projects, it has an appropriate acronym: the Enhanced Air Ground Lasercom System (EAGLS). Aoptix, the company that designed EAGLS, claims its laser Internet technology has the potential for 2-4 Gbps speeds, double to quadruple the current fastest speeds available in this country. Technically, Aoptix wants to deliver Internet via laser and radio, as the two technologies have to work literally side-by-side. Each technology is susceptible to different forms of weather interference so together they provide redundancy. Raindrops can affect radio, but not lasers, and fog can affect lasers, but not radio. The company says their dual transmitters can reliably send data up to 10 kilometers between relay towers already built and in place. And in case you’re wondering, the laser operates on a non-visible portion of the light spectrum, so you won’t have to put up with looking into the Eye of Sauron to get a fast connection. Here’s how the laser portion of the transmission works: Sure It’s Cool, But Why This Particular Wireless Tech? Like other companies with fiber network alternatives, Aoptix sees infrastructure cost savings as the primary benefit of wireless networks over fiber. There aren’t miles and miles of trenches to dig or fiber to lay. EAGLS has proven the technology works, and the fact that it can work with existing infrastructure means that implementing the laser/radio broadband network should be very inexpensive. Three U.S. carriers are currently in talks with Aoptix, and the system is already in use with Car-Sa, an Internet provider in Mexico. Aoptix has even installed a laser/radio link between NASDAQ and the New York Stock Exchange, where an even slightly faster connection can result in increased profits for stock market traders. Unlike other fiber alternatives that require some infrastructure cost, the fact that Aoptix uses existing towers to relay their signals means that this could be a great way to bring high-speed Internet access to rural areas that already have radio and cell towers. Installation should require little more than putting transmitter relays on those towers. It’s Okay to Geek Out a Bit With these real-world trials already under way, it shouldn’t take long to determine whether lasers are the answer to the wireless broadband question. But take a step back, and forget the science. Forget the infrastructure. We live in a world where nothing amazes us anymore, and there’s a company installing lasers that will let us interact and share content faster than ever. Sure, it’s always smart to be a bit skeptical over promises of better mousetraps, sometimes it’s hard not to get excited. Especially when lasers are involved. Commercial Internet by laser isn’t available quite yet, but if you can’t wait until it is, enter your zip code below to see high-speed plans that are available in your area. Image by Andrew Adams/Flickr [zipfinder]
Will Smith is a copywriter living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His favorite word is “petrichor,” and aside from wordplay, he loves reading history, watching Dodger baseball, and racing with the Sports Car Club of America.