Free-optics communications can transmit data to places that traditional fiber optic-based networks can't reach.

Several years ago, telecom industry experts warned of a forthcoming "spectrum crunch," where demand for wireless communications would outpace available frequencies. Those initial fears subsided only to rise up again in the wake of the Internet of Things. As more connected devices come into existence, wireless network capacity becomes strained, negatively affecting service quality.

Because wireless capacity is a finite resource, many of the largest players in the telecom space have been busy buying up as much spectrum as possible to strengthen their hold on the industry. Carriers like Verizon and AT&T, for instance, have bought a significant portion of available spectrum covering the United States.

Free-space optical communication has long been floated as a potential solution to these constraints, and now appears to be in a position to make good on its promise.

How free-space optics ease spectrum concerns

"Carriers need to turn to alternative solutions to address bandwidth demands."

With commercial spectrum in short supply, carriers need to turn to alternative solutions to address bandwidth demands and maintain high-quality service delivery. As FierceWirelessTech noted, free-space optics enable telecom providers to circumvent congested airwaves and avoid that dreaded spectrum crunch. Instead of jostling for bandwidth on traditional satellite communications networks, free-space optical communication users would have more freedom and space to breathe. It therefore stands to reason that as available connectivity becomes more and more consumed, the simple rules of supply and demand always drives innovation.

Why are industry experts so bullish on the potential of free-space optics? The answer, according to Don Boroson, a fellow at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, lies in the technology's ability to facilitate more data at faster speeds.

"Optical wavelengths are more than four orders of magnitude shorter than those of even the highest practical radio frequencies," Boroson wrote. "One result of this is that the usable bands are multiple terahertz wide as opposed to gigahertz wide. Such wide bandwidths suggest that optical signals have the potential to support huge rates of data transfer."

Although some industry members have cautioned that this technology may be years away from solving crowded spectrum problems, there's plenty of reason for optimism given the work that companies like Laser Light Communications, including CloudSmartz, are doing in the area of hybrid mesh networks. By bridging the divide between satellite-based and terrestrial networks with all-optical communications, organizations can maximize service quality, speed and availability.

Free-optics could improve communications for ships at sea.Free-optics could improve communications for ships at sea.

Use cases for free-space optics

Free-space optics' ability to reliably transmit data via satellite to any location on earth has caught the attention of numerous industries that manage remote installations and facilities. The oil industry, for instance, could leverage this technology to improve communications and connectivity at offshore rigs.

Working with representatives from John Hopkins University, the U.S. Navy recently conducted an experiment testing the efficacy of free-space optics in maritime communications. Traditional satellite or radio communications are notoriously difficult to maintain during storms or even moderate environmental conditions like fog and sea spray. Researchers discovered that two ships were able to maintain their link with data transmission rates reaching 7.5 Gbps, despite the presence of marine fog and 5-foot swells.

The experiment successfully functioned as a proof of concept, demonstrating the clear value that free-optics networks offer to any organization or institution that struggles to maintain reliable communication in field operations.

As innovators like CloudSmartz work with other innovators like Laser Light Communications on StarBeam OS™ looking to resolve some of these challenges, they continue to push optical communication technology forward; the ultimate goal of a fully formed hybrid mesh global network doesn't seem so far off. There is still work to do of course,, but the groundwork is being laid to alleviate wireless spectrum constraints and improve connectivity in every corner of the world.