Telecoms, Datacoms, Wireless, IoT


Free-space optics - communication at the speed of light

23 October 2002 Telecoms, Datacoms, Wireless, IoT

Companies today are faced with a myriad of options when deciding on the best method of transmitting their data, voice and other communications. But, one of the most compelling options to recently step into the limelight is free-space optics (FSO).

Locally, FSO has become increasingly prominent due to the efforts of companies such as South African developer and manufacturer Otex Concepts. Through the company's Netshield range of FSO systems, businesses have started to reap the benefits of this technology. However, to understand FSO's impact it is important to take a few steps back.

FSO was originally developed more than three decades ago - initially used by the military and space aviation pioneers to provide secure and rapidly deployable communications links. Recent developments in FSO technology have, however, advanced it to mainstream communications applications such as short-term solutions for short-haul network bridges, last mile connectivity, and attractive and viable alternatives for service providers that deliver the promise of all-optical networks. So, how does it work?

"FSO is a line-of-sight technology that enables optical transmission - via light emitting diodes (LEDs) or lasers - of up to 10 Gbps of data, voice and video communications through the air, allowing optical connectivity without deploying fibre-optic cable," explains Lee-Anne Hutchins, Netshield product manager at local systems distributor Comztek.

"The use of lasers, for example, is similar to optical transmissions using fibre-optic cables, the only difference is the medium. Light travels through the air faster than it does through glass, so it is fair to classify FSO as optical communications at the speed of light.

The deployment of FSO is also relatively simple. Explains Inus Dreckmeyr, managing director of Otex Concepts: "The technology is based on connectivity between FSO units, each consisting of an optical transceiver with a laser transmitter (785 to 1550 nm) and a receiver with either a pin-diode or an APD (avalanche photo diode) to provide full duplex (bi-directional) capability."

He further explains that each FSO unit relays fibre-optic based signals, using a high-power optical source (ie, laser) and a collimating lens to transmit light modulated information through the atmosphere to remote receiving units' receiver lenses which then focuses the information on a high-sensitivity photosensitive device.

"This information in turn is relayed back onto an fibre optical connection. The benefits of FSO are quite significant. The technology requires no spectrum licensing and is easily upgradeable."

Importantly, adds Hutchins: "FSO's dedicated fibre-optic or copper interfaces supports equipment from most vendors, protecting service providers' investments in embedded telecommunication and networking infrastructures."

For more information contact Jenny-Lee Williams, Comztek, 011 237 1800.





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