June 13, 2024
Free Space Optics Communication

Free Space Optics Communication: The Future of High Speed Communication

Free space optics (FSO) communication, also known as optical wireless, is a line-of-sight method of telecommunication that uses light propagating in free space to transmit data for telecommunications and computer networking. It is a line-of-sight broadband communication technology which uses infrared light or low level visible light instead of radio waves. In FSO, modulated laser light beams are used to transmit data, voice or video communications at very high speeds between two points using atmospheric windows where laser light propagates efficiently.

Advantages of FSO Communication
FSO has several advantages over traditional wired and wireless communication technologies:

High Bandwidth Capacity
FSO allows for ultra-high bandwidth capacities of over 1 terabit per second and these capacities can be increased further. This is significantly higher than what is possible through traditional radio frequency technologies like WiFi or cellular. FSO has potential to keep up with future requirements for very high data rates.

License Free Spectrum
As FSO operates using infrared light spectrum which requires no licensing from regulatory bodies. This helps reduce deployment costs and time significantly compared to cellular networks which require licensing of allocated radio frequency spectrum.

Free Space Optics Communication transmissions cannot penetrate walls or other physical barriers. So the data transmitted through FSO links is secure and immune to radio frequency interference. This makes FSO communication more secure compared to wireless RF technologies.

Installation and Operation Cost
FSO systems have relatively low installation and operational costs compared to laying cable infrastructure as no new rights of way need to be established for FSO links. Maintenance costs are also low since no buried cable infrastructure is involved.

FSO has a wide variety of applications due to its capabilities of very high bandwidth, security and lower costs compared to alternatives:

Last Mile Connectivity
FSO can be used to provide last mile broadband connectivity to households and enterprise buildings. It helps deliver fiber like speeds to user premises without the need to lay expensive fiber optic cables. Cellular backhaul networks also use FSO extensively to connect cell towers to the core network.

Enterprise Connectivity
Many businesses, financial institutions, government agencies use FSO to connect different buildings within their campus supporting applications like videoconferencing, data replication and backups which demand very high speeds.

Disaster Recovery
FSO provides an effective disaster recovery solution as it can quickly establish connectivity between two points in case the primary wired link fails or gets disrupted. Temporary FSO links can be set up within hours.

Oil and Gas Industry
Offshore oil rigs and ships use FSO for their internal communication and connectivity back to shore as it is not practical to lay cable networks in such mobile and harsh environments.

Military Applications
Military uses FSO for quickly deployable, jam-resistant communications on ground, on ships as well as airborne applications due to its advantages over microwave and satellite links.

Despite various advantages, FSO technology also faces some challenges that need to be addressed for commercial scale deployments:

Line of Sight Requirement
FSO requires a clear line of sight between the transmitting and receiving terminals. Any obstruction in the transmission path can attenuate or block the laser beam. Mitigation techniques are required to overcome outages due to atmospheric effects, fog, smoke, rains etc.

Atmospheric Effects
Weather changes like fog, precipitation can cause signal attenuation, scattering and absorption losses. Advanced modulation schemes, coding and adaptive power control is required to achieve acceptable levels of availability during adverse weather conditions.

Eye Safety Issues
High power lasers used for long range FSO links need to comply with eye safety regulations to prevent potential risks to human eyes and aircraft pilots. Strict control on laser transmit power and beams is important.

Complex Alignment and Tracking
Potential misalignments between the narrow laser beams at the transmitter and receiver require active tracking mechanisms to continuously align the systems and compensate for any vibrations, building movements etc. Robust alignment algorithms help improve stability.

Lack of standardized interfaces, protocols and form factors have slowed adoption of FSO technology. Industry alliances and regulatory bodies are working for standard specifications to help integration and interoperability.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it