The world is still a long way from universal connectivity: More than 3 billion people don’t have access to the internet. In remote areas, and especially in rough terrain, one challenge is the cost of infrastructure—laying out a network of fiber-optic cables is difficult and expensive. X, Alphabet’s moonshot factory, is testing a new approach in India and Africa using invisible beams of light to send data over long distances without cables.
Project Taara, previously called the FSOC (free space optical communications) Project, recently announced that it will work with partners in Kenya to begin rolling out the technology to bring fast, affordable internet access to some areas where other options won’t work.
The basic approach is similar to fiber networks, which also use light to carry data. But it works in the air instead of in a wire. Small boxes equipped with electrical, communication, and optical tech, placed high above the ground, send out infrared light in a beam roughly the diameter of a chopstick to another terminal as far as 12 miles away, creating a new zone of wireless connectivity in the area. The team has tested the technology in a series of pilots, including in a remote part of India.