Alphabet X: Project Taara’s light-beam-based internet commercially deployed in Africa

In addition to balloons, Alphabet’s X Moonshot Factory has investigated using beams of light to deliver internet connectivity. Project Taara is now getting its first commercial deployment in Kenya.

The technology-powering Project Taara — derived from a Sanskrit root meaning “to cross” — is known as Free Space Optical Communications (FSOC). Beams of light are used to deliver information just like fiber optics, but without a physical cable. X first investigated the technology for Loon’s balloons.

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This beam is sent between two small Taara terminals to create a link. A single Taara link can cover distances up to 20 km and can transmit bandwidth of up to 20 Gbps+ — that’s enough connectivity for thousands of people to be watching YouTube at the same time.

Since line-of-sight needs to be maintained, Taara units are mounted on towers, rooftops, or poles. The lack of wiring means that trenches do not have to be dug or cables strung. This lowers costs and speeds up deployment, while the technology is “based on open standards” and integrates with existing infrastructure.

Taara links 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 WiFi hotspots.

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X announced today that Project Taara is working with Econet and subsidiaries, Liquid Telecom and Econet Group, in Sub-Saharan Africa. The launch in Kenya follows pilot tests last year and initial testing in India three years ago.

Taara’s links will begin rolling out across Liquid Telecom’s networks in Kenya first, and will help provide high-speed connectivity in places where it’s challenging to lay fiber cables, or where deploying fiber might be too costly or dangerous — for example over rivers, across national parks, or in post-conflict zones.

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