There are more than 3 billion people in the world who still lack access to the internet. Many of them live in remote areas with rough terrain where deploying conventional internet infrastructure, such as fiber optic cables, is a difficult and expensive undertaking.
But X, Alphabet’s moonshot factory, is now testing an approach that overcomes these obstacles — literally. The venture’s latest invention, which is currently being piloted in India and Africa, is using invisible beams of light to send data over long distances without cables.
Called Taara, the ambitious project is driven by the mission to bring fast and affordable internet access to some areas where other options aren’t available, and are now working together with partners in Kenya to make it happen.
Similar to fiber optic cables, which also use light to carry data, the new approach uses air instead of wires. Small boxes equipped with electrical, communication, and optical tech, placed at high altitudes, send out infrared light in a beam roughly the diameter of a chopstick to another terminal as far as 12 miles away. The interaction between the two terminals creates a new zone of wireless connectivity in the area, enabling people to connect to the web.
To prevent the beam from interruptions, the terminals are placed high above people and trees. And the team — which is no stranger to developing innovative solutions to bring internet access to the developing world — says the technology’s signal is strong enough to remain reliable in the face of problematic weather conditions, such as smog, dust, or rain.
After the pilot programs, the technology is set to bring internet access to a number of remote areas, bringing users online to benefit from services like telemedicine, agricultural help for farmers, and online learning.