Alphabet ended Project Loon earlier this year, but the things it learned from the internet-broadcasting balloon initiative haven’t gone to waste. The high speed wireless optical link technology originally developed for Loon is currently being used for another moonshot called Project Taara. In a new blog post, Taara’s Director of Engineering, Baris Erkmen, has revealed that the initiative’s wireless optical communications (WOC) links are now beaming high-speed connectivity across the Congo River.
The idea for Taara started when the Loon team successfully used WOC to beam data between Loon balloons that were more than 100 kilometers apart. The team wanted to explore how the technology can be used on the ground. As part of the team’s exploration on WOC’s potential applications, they worked on bridging the connectivity gap between Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The two locations are separated by the Congo River and are only 4.8 kilometers apart. However, internet connectivity costs much, much more in Kinshasa, because providers will have to lay down enough fiber connection to cover 400 kilometers of ground around the river. What Project Taara did was install links that can beam high-speed connectivity from Brazzaville to Kinshasa across the river instead. Within 20 days and with 99.9 percent availability, the links served served nearly 700 TB of data.
Taara’s WOC links work by seeking each other out and linking their beams of light together to create a high-speed internet connection. It’s not ideal for use in foggy locations, but Project Taara has developed network planning tools that can estimate WOC availability based on various factors like weather. In the future, the team will be able to use those tools to plan for the locations where Taara’s technology will work best.
Baris Erkmen, Director of Engineering for Taara, wrote in the post:
“Better tracking accuracy, automated environmental responses and better planning tools are helping Taara’s links deliver reliable high-speed bandwidth to places that fiber can’t reach, and helping us connect communities that are cut off from traditional ways of delivering connectivity. We’re really excited about these advances, and are looking forward to building on them as we continue developing and refining Taara’s capabilities.”