FSO: Technology FAQ

Free Space Optics (FSO) Technology FAQ

CableFree Free Space Optics installed in the British Virgin Islands
CableFree Free Space Optics installed in the British Virgin Islands

Q: What is free-space optics (FSO) technology?
A: FSO is a line-of-sight optical technology in which voice, video, and data are sent through the air on beams of light at speeds up to 2.5 Gbps — more than 2,000 times the capacity of a traditional “high speed” connection such as DSL.  FSO is also called Free Space Optics, Optical Wireless, Laser, Laser Link or Infrared in different markets and applications.

Q: Is FSO a new technology?
A: FSO systems were first developed during the 1960s both domestically and internationally for secure communications by military. Recent advancements in the technology — and the skyrocketing demand for bandwidth where fiber-optic cable is unavailable — have created a need for FSO-based products (such as CableFree’s optical wireless family) in commercial communications networks. FSO systems have been deployed for several years commercially in enterprise networks where a single end-user has a local area network linking two or more buildings. FSO-based products have been deployed worldwide. (In fact, CableFree has its optical wireless products at work in more than 50 countries, and 2,000-plus installations.

Q: What’s optical wireless?
A: Optical wireless, based on the latest in FSO technology, is a new category of products that CableFree has created to solve the need for high-speed, last mile connectivity across corporate campuses and to access fiber networks.

Q:How does free-space optics technology work?
A: CableFree’s FSO-based optical wireless systems act the same as a piece of fiber-optic cable. The systems take information data streams from fiber-optic cable, transport it on invisible beams of light between locations, where it once again connects to fiber and to end-users through an add/drop multiplexer.

CableFree FSO deployed with Resilient Radio Path in UNITY configuration
CableFree FSO deployed with Resilient Radio Path in UNITY configuration

Q: How are FSO-based systems deployed?
A: CableFree’s optical wireless systems can be installed outdoors or indoors on building rooftops, exterior walls, towers, behind windows or any combination. If there is a line-of-sight and appropriate distance, a connection can be made between two points.

Q: How far can an FSO-based optical wireless link go?
A: While many FSO technology providers quote maximum range figures, based on ideal conditions, CableFree prefers to cite optimum distances and urges you to use these as points of reference.

Q: What speeds (bandwidths) are available with optical wireless products?
A: CableFree’s current Flight Optical Wireless family provides bandwidth of 10 Mbps, 155 Mbps, 622 Mbps and 1.25 Gbps at 780-980nm, and 2.5 Gbps at 1550nm.

Q: Is free-space optics technology safe?
A: Yes, our products are eye safe and environmentally safe. They meet or exceed standards set by U.S. and international regulatory bodies.

Q: What protocols do FSO technology use?
A: CableFree’s FSO-based products are agile enough to integrate within any service provider network. CableFree manufactures products that work with Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, SONET/SDS, ATM and FDDI. Our products can be used for metro network extension, DWDM services, access/last mile, wireless backhaul, disaster recovery, storage area networks and LAN, as well as WAN solutions.

Q: Does weather affect FSO-based optical wireless products?
A: Based on more than two years of field studies and installations, CableFree’s FSO products can provide carrier-class availability when deployed in a network. This availability is achieved through our multi-beam system — the only one of its kind in the industry — which links distances, weather data and network management tools. In addition, we can combine FSO and license-free RF technology to provide an extra layer of redundancy. CableFree’s products have been proven through both deployment and successful field trials with carriers. They operate in a variety of weather conditions, from -13°F to 122°F (-25°C to 50°C).

Q: Why wasn’t FSO technology been deployed on a much larger scale sooner?
A: The broader market for FSO-based technology did not emerge until late 2000 when it became clear that fiber-optic cable would not reach into every building in the near future. Today, it is increasingly finding its way into a range of enterprise and service provider applications. The costs and challenges associated with trenching fiber in metropolitan areas can be prohibitive, yet bandwidth demands are increasing, particularly in the “last mile.” In many cities, these demands are outstripping service providers’ ability to deploy fiber-optic cable. Combined with shrinking capital budgets, other gaps and applications in service providers’ networks must also be addressed through viable alternatives such as FSO-based, optical wireless products.

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