Communications experts at KAUST and Taara from the X Corporation have successfully tested a high-speed data transmission system based on optical laser technology in the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia. It is a promising step towards comprehensive connectivity of digital data packages in all regions of the Kingdom at high speed and low cost.
Wireless communications have become one of the basic elements in the modern lifestyle, and one of the necessities that cannot be dispensed with because of its great benefits in improving life, especially in areas that do not have means of communication or suffer from poor and interrupted communications, such as remote rural villages and isolated marine sites.
Fiber Optic (FO) is a popular data transmission solution because of its high speed to provide stable data delivery in many locations, but at the same time, it is a very expensive technology that is not sustainable for all locations and conditions. Data transmission technology via radio frequency (RF) comes as an alternative to optical fibers in data transmission, but it is unstable as its quality is greatly affected by wave interference, in addition to its limited speed.
In this context, a team of researchers led by Professor Muhammad Salim Al-Alawi, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), and his PhD student Fahd Al-Qurashi conducted an experiment to investigate the feasibility of using a low-cost, laser-based technology known as telecom. Free Space Optics (FSO) as an Alternative to Fiber Optic and Radio Frequency in Saudi Arabia. The new technology relies on the propagation of light in free space (air, outer space, or vacuum) to transmit data wirelessly for communications or the Internet at high speeds on a gigabyte scale.
Finally, KAUST succeeded in implementing this technology in cooperation with Taara, a subsidiary of X, an American research and development institution founded by Google, and now operates as a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., where the free-space optical communication technology was launched at a speed of 20 gigabytes per second, between KAUST Beach and Umm Misk Island, two kilometers away in the Red Sea. It is the first time that this technology has been deployed from Tara in the Kingdom for the purpose of improving maritime communications.
KAUST contributes to the preparation of the basic hardware packages needed for the rapid deployment and signal transmission of this technology in an integrated picture for regions that lack the physical infrastructure for communications, and provides the necessary research to improve their systems. The technology is expected to be expanded to similar offshore locations across the region, providing affordable high-speed internet access in many coastal areas and unconnected islands. It is noteworthy that this project was carried out with the approval and support of the Saudi Communications, Space and Technology Commission.
Bhavish Mistry, Regional Director of Tara Middle East and Africa, said: “We are pleased to cooperate with KAUST, which is one of the leading universities in developing research and innovative technologies, and bringing them to market. Tara’s mission is to expand global access to fast and reliable Internet, and we are proud to work with KAUST to bridge the communications gap and deploy our technology in areas where it is difficult to deploy fiber optics.”
Free-space visual communication technology is very useful and needed when physical communications are impractical in many locations, including thousands of small villages across the Kingdom, which are currently not sufficiently connected, as well as marine sites in the Red Sea, which are the future of tourism. and coastal development in Saudi Arabia. This technology is low-cost and ideal for areas that require a temporary communications network, such as tourist areas in desert destinations or remote islands. In addition, this technology will play a fundamental role in environmental monitoring efforts in the Kingdom, especially in monitoring and controlling coral reefs, ocean currents and other marine phenomena from underwater sensors, buoys or boats, and transmitting their signals to the shore.
Professor Al-Alwini said, “Because water covers 71% of the Earth’s surface, the increase in human activities in the oceans and seas has highlighted the importance of developing reliable marine communication technologies. The use of optical communication technology in free space is in line with this, due to its great potential in data transmission, which paves the way for the development of innovative and diverse applications that depend on maritime communications.
The deployment of this technology is an important achievement and a first step towards understanding how it works in the environments of Saudi Arabia, especially in the field of maritime communications under a range of severe and unpredictable environmental conditions. In light of this, free-space optical communication technology offers a unique trade-off, as lasers provide the high speeds required to transmit data at a low cost, but at the same time they are vulnerable to the effects of climate and atmosphere, unlike optical fibers, which are protected by cables. To meet this challenge, the research team installed meteorological stations on site to monitor and test the technology over the next year in order to assess how different environmental conditions such as changes in temperature, wind speed, and humidity affect system performance, taking into account variables such as duration, distance, and outages. The data will be used to improve the system, with the ultimate goal of disseminating this technology widely in other regions of Saudi Arabia.
Global Internet connectivity will be among the topics for discussion at Professor Mohamed Salim Al-Alwini’s workshop on May 29, 2023, titled “Digitization to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” which is part of the World Conference on Sustainable Development to be hosted by KAUST.
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