Laser offers cheap way to disperse high-speed Internet to rural areas

March 17th, 2009 - 6:08 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Mar 17 (ANI): With the cost of bringing high-speed Internet to rural areas proving to be too high, a new research has shown that a high-powered laser can do the job at a low-cost.
In the 21st century there was a big push to close the digital divide that separated people in the cities from people in rural areas, and even though the divide has somewhat closed in recent years, it still proved to be too costly for the ones outside the cities.
Traditional high-speed services used by city-dwellers — like DSL or cable — require extensive networks of equipment and lines out in the field. The cost of this infrastructure increases rapidly as the size of the covered area increases.
Other technologies like satellite and fixed wireless offer wider coverage, but are often unreliable and expensive.
Dr. Ka Lun Lee and colleagues at the University of Melbourne and NEC Australia in the state of Victoria are experimenting with a way to boost the reach of existing technology.
As per Lee, Gigabit passive optical networks (GPON), used, for example, by Verizon’’s FiOS service, provide the lowest cost at higher bitrates. These networks carry data long distances over optical fibres to passive optical splitters, which split the signal to individual households.
Currently, the reach of this technology into rural areas is limited by the loss in signal strength along the optical fiber, and each line can only radiate out approximately 19 miles from a central office.
According to Lee’’s calculations, 19 miles is not enough to reach rural areas.
To boost the reach of GPON, Lee and his team use a device called a Raman amplifier.
Installed in the central office of a network provider, this high-powered laser feeds the optical signal that carries information with energy as it heads out over a fibre. This increases the power and reach of the signal by a factor of almost ten.
To see how far such a network could reach, Lee’’s team built a mock network with a signal transmitter, a simulated splitter, and a receiver at the other end. Their proof-of-concept experiment successful transmitted data over 37 miles of single mode fibre, error-free, at a speed of 2.5 Gb/s.
According to Lee’’s data, a reach of 37 miles would allow the existing offices of network providers to service 99 percent of all Australians living in Victoria.
The technology may have an added cost benefit for urban areas. With added reach, a number of central offices of network providers could be closed down to save money on real estate, says Lee.
The only drawback of the system in its current form is the question of safety. The supercharged signal will require additional safety measures, and a more careful inspection for breaks in fibres.
“We have proven that long-reach PON is cost-competitive with other broadband technologies in rural areas and can easily provide much higher access speeds,” Lee said.
Their results, which show a new way to cheaply cover 99 percent of those living in this province, will be presented during the Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exposition/National Fiber Optic Engineers Conference (OFC/NFOEC), taking place March 22-26 in San Diego. (ANI)

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