If you live in much of the world today, high-speed Internet is a solved problem. But there are still places where getting connected presents unique challenges. Alphabet, the company that formed from Google, details their experience piping an optical network across the Congo. The project derived from an earlier program — project Loon — that used balloons to replace traditional infrastructure.
Laying cables along the twisting and turning river raises costs significantly, so a wireless approach makes sense. Connecting Brazzaville to Kinshasa using optical techniques isn’t perfect — fog, birds, and other obstructions don’t help. They still managed to pipe 700 terabytes of data in 20 days with over 99.9% reliability.
This appears to be one of those problems that seem simple until you dig into it. Even though the link is only around 3 miles in distance, to get the performance required, the company claims:
Imagine pointing a light beam the width of a chopstick accurately enough to hit a 5-centimeter target (about the size of a US quarter) that’s 10 kilometers away;
The project requires atmospheric sensing, control of mirrors, and motion detection. In a pilot in India, the same system had to even deal with monkeys shaking the equipment.
We couldn’t help but wonder how this all stacks against alternative technology, for example wireless and low Earth orbit systems would seem to offer stiff competition with different tradeoffs.