Facebook Eyes Experimental Laser Broadband — at 2.1 Gbps

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Facebook is experimenting with new laser-based broadband technology that it says has delivered speeds of up to 2.1 Gbps in the lab. The Connectivity Lab at Facebook’s internet.org hopes to use the technology in concert with its exploration of drone broadband technology to bring broadband to more remote locations (to then, of course, sell those people advertisements). Facebook, like Google and others, is also experimenting heavily with millimeter wave broadband technology.

This latest laser effort, disclosed in a new research paper published this week, the company says its new laser tech could be a way to introduce new wireless broadband technologies that don t require dedicated spectrum or licenses.

Historically, laser broadband technology utilizes very tiny (just a millimeter square) photodiodes operating at very high speeds. Most frequently, these technologies have been used at NASA for communication with spacecraft at speeds up to 600 Mbps. Facebook says it has developed a new detector that’s 126 square centimeters, capable of receiving laser-based communications at much higher speeds with significantly less signal loss.

“We achieve this by using optical waveguides doped with wavelength shifting dyes, also known as luminescent concentrators,” states the study. “The incident light, modulated with a communication signal, is absorbed by the dye molecules independently of the light incidence angle and subsequently re-emitted at a different wavelength.”

While the company says it has achieved speeds of 2.1Gbps in early lab tests, it thinks speeds can be dramatically higher. Still like many line of sight technologies the real challenge with laser-based communications has been of the atmospheric obstacle variety (read: clouds, weather, pigeons).

Whether we actually see this on the residential front remains uncertain, though it seems likely to aid any number of industries and government agencies already embracing laser broadband communications. Those interested can find significantly more detail in the full paper.


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