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Can free space optics solve the backhaul crunch?

by Scott Bicheno on 20 May 2010, 17:38

Tags: fSONA

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Optical solution

When the five mobile operators paid-out a colossal £22.5 billion to the UK government (WTF happened to that money? - Ed) for 3G licenses at the height of the dotcom bubble, the investment was justified by all the money they would make from everyone using this new bandwidth for things like video calls.

It look a while, and hasn't turned out quite how they had imagined, but the explosion of the mobile Internet now means that these super-duper new networks are now at breaking point. Devices like the iPhone have put a massive strain on networks, such that companies like AT&T - which has iPhone exclusivity in the States - are noticeably struggling.

According to fSONA - a Canadian company that provides free space optics solutions - the primary bottleneck in a mobile network is not the microwave communication between a base station and a mobile device, nor the core network, but the link between the two, otherwise known as the backhaul.

While each mobile device communicates with the nearest base station independently, that base station has to effectively funnel all the the data being used by each of the potentially thousands of devices into one stream. If the backhaul system lacks the bandwidth to deal with the sum total of these data requirements, you get a loss of service.

The reason fSONA bothered to enlighten us on this matter is that it reckons it has a solution to this problem: free space optics (FSO). We're used to data being transmitted physically through optical fibre and through the air over micro and radio waves, but FSO transmits data through the air using optical technology - effectively invisible lasers.