CONNECTIVITY: An Option in Sight



Given the geographical diversity of India, last-mile connectivity has always
been a pain point for telecom operators. In the case of business centers, laying
down fiber and wiring up old buildings is a herculean task. All this, coupled
with the approvals required for digging and laying down fiber or copper, makes
it difficult to provide high-bandwidth, reliable connectivity. And, after the
broadband policy failed to unbundle the copper loops of BSNL/MTNL, private
operators have been aggressively pursuing the fiber and wireless routes to
deliver high-speed connectivity.

Free space optics (FSO) promises to solve the last-mile woes and is also
being promoted as a reliable backhaul technology for the carriers.

FSO
as a technology was initially used in defense (primarily in naval ship-to-ship
communications) and secure aerospace applications. It is now also an alternative
to fiber optic—based solutions in the commercial market space.

According to industry estimates, the worldwide FSO market at present is about
$100 mn. The potential, however, is of more than $1 bn. “FSO has been
popular in USA with almost 50% of the market. It is followed by EMEA with 30%
share and Asia-Pacific contributes 20%,” says Jeff Bean, director global
marketing, LightPointe. According to statistics, there are 750,000 large
business buildings in the US, of which only five% are connected to fiber, but
over 70% of which are within one mile of at least one of the buildings that is
connected to fiber.

In India, though pilots and testings have been carried out, deployments have
been few. On the enterprise side, Krone has deployed this technology from
Optical Access, an Israel-based company, at its Chennai-based Orchid Chemicals
and Pharmaceuticals. Bharti is said to have tested and deployed this for its
backhaul. The technology for this was provided from SONAbeam, through Netware
Technologies India. “The installations are primarily for mobile wireless
backhaul. However, enterprise building-to-building opportunities are starting to
emerge,” adds Bean.

The Tech Side
Free Space Optics, also called free space photonics (FSP) or optical
wireless, refers to the transmission of modulated visible or infrared (IR) beams
through the atmosphere, to obtain optical communications. Like fiber, FSO uses
lasers to transmit data, but instead of enclosing the data stream in an optical
fiber, the data is transmitted through the air.

FSO transmits invisible, eye-safe light beams from one ‘telescope’ to
another, using low-power infrared lasers in the terahertz spectrum. The b