Alphabet will soon deliver wireless Internet over light beams in Kenya using a technology that can cover distances of up to 20km. Alphabet’s Project Taara, unveiled under a different name in 2017, conducted a series of pilots in Kenya last year and is now partnering with a telecom company to deliver Internet access in remote parts of Africa.
Kenya will get the technology first, with other countries in sub-Saharan Africa to follow. Project Taara General Manager Mahesh Krishnaswamy described the project in an announcement from Alphabet today:
Similar to fiber-optic cables, Taara’s technology uses light to transmit data, but without the cables. Krishnaswamy continued:
The technology requires line-of-sight connections, so Alphabet deploys the terminals “high up on towers, poles, or rooftops.” Krishnaswamy wrote that Taara links can “offer a cost-effective and quickly deployable way to bring high-speed Internet access to remote areas and help plug critical gaps to major access points, like cell towers and Wi-Fi hotspots.” Alphabet encouraged other ISPs and mobile network operators to get in touch about deploying Taara in additional areas.
Project Taara is one of the “moonshots” developed at Alphabet’s X subsidiary (formerly known as Google X). Taara grew out of X’s Project Loon, which had developed a balloon-based network to cover remote areas.
As Alphabet explains, “the Loon team needed to figure out a way to create a data link between balloons that were flying over 100km apart” and thus “investigated the use of FSOC (Free Space Optical Communications) technology to establish high-throughput links between balloons.” After using those links to send data between balloons in the stratosphere, Loon engineers wondered if they could “apply some of that science to solve connectivity problems down a little closer to Earth,” and Project Taara was born.