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Free Free Space Optics?

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
7/11/2002
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With all the layoffs happening in telecom, and service providers under financial strain, perhaps you've been sitting in your bedroom, staring at the wall, listening to The Who with the bass turned all the way down, and wondering if it isn't high time people just started building their own optical networking gear, dammit!

That's what at least one person posted -- amid a predictable amount of derision and mockery -- on Slashdot, a technology discussion board owned by a subsidiary of VA Software.

"Lately I've been obscessed [sic] with grassroots community network projects, and the hardware that enables them," writes the poster using the handle Graham Wheeler. (Graham Wheeler, incidentally, is the author of "Brew Classic European Beers at Home" and other home brewing books. Light Reading was unable to confirm that the Graham Wheeler posting was indeed that Graham Wheeler -- though the research was fun.)

"Most sites I have seen focus on wireless RF networking, but I have noticed a few projects revolving around free space optical transceivers," the poster continues. "Twibright Labs' RONJA [Reasonable Optical Near Joint Access] is a good example of what I'm talking about." Twibright Labs is a handful of undergraduate students studying "Informatics" in Prague. Their RONJA program encourages folk to "Build your own optical data link from common elementary parts." These include: "old toothbrush," "ceramic capacitors," and a "multimeter with transistor amplification coefficient measurement (not mandatory)." Damn! Where we gonna find an old toothbrush?

Besides making homemade optical networking gear, Twibright's other projects include a "lighting system with rechargeable batteries" for bicycles.

"Not being an electronics hobbyist, however, makes the various plans for building a comm laser from scratch look rather daunting," the poster frets.

"It seems to me that it would be easier to just make a lens and housing system into which would go one of the many cheaply available copper-to-fiber media converters. Then you could simply modify it so that the laser ports were optically connected to the TX [transmission] and RX [receive] lens assemblies instead of the standard fiber interface." (Yeah, definitely that Graham Wheeler... or at least a dedicated follower.)

"So, what factor(s) am I overlooking that would explain why nobody seems to be doing this?" the poster asks in conclusion.

Whether a hoax or not, the poster got several replies, only a few of which were combative. One respondent gently pointed out that perhaps buying an 802.11-enabled gadget would be better for around-the-house data transfer than, say, constructing one's own telecom lasers out of spare parts.

Another respondent interpreted the post to be about why a commercial fiber laser could be modified to work in point-to-point applications. "Most freespace [laser] projects involve something a bit more powerful, which allows the laser to punch through smoke and fog a little better," the respondent writes. "I guess if you made the laser powerful enough, it could punch through interference such as pigeons, too."

Alas, yet another sincere discussion about saving a few bucks by building your own optical networking gear has devolved into blasting birds with deadly data.

PETA officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.com

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cfaller
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cfaller,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:07:11 PM
re: Free Free Space Optics?
Richard Dean Anderson could be the spokesman for this! Can't you picture him talking about the benefits of do it yourself FSO during one of those annoying NBC "The More You Know" commercials?

Ahh, such fun...
Lightmare
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Lightmare,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:07:11 PM
re: Free Free Space Optics?
Interesting story.
This caught my attention but I doubt we'll see a follow-on in the near future.

Any chance we could get you to poll some of today's CEO's to find out what plan "B" or "C" is for when they run out of money and can't raise additional funds?

Maybe ask them to dust off that old business plan (we hope)they wrote in order to raise funds and remind them that they planned on being profitable in Q2 01 and it's now Q3 02.

So with little or no revenue, when do they expect to generate revenue. If they do not generate revenue by "X" then what should we expect? Chapter 11? Fire sale of IP? Worse?

While I doubt any would give you a direct answer, it would be good to see a list of those who decline to comment on the subject.

As they say, fail to plan, plan to fail.
BubbleBuster
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BubbleBuster,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:07:09 PM
re: Free Free Space Optics?
"staring at the wall, listening to The Who with the bass turned all the way down..."

Am I the only one who found this quote extremely offensive?... man-o-man, the guy JUST died! If anything, you listen to the Who with bass turned all the way up.
Steve Saunders
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Steve Saunders,
User Rank: Blogger
12/4/2012 | 10:07:09 PM
re: Free Free Space Optics?
"As they say, fail to plan, plan to fail."

Anyone else have any trite business aphorisms they would care to share?

Example:

"I don't care how much you know until I know how much you care."

metroshark
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metroshark,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:07:08 PM
re: Free Free Space Optics?
DFB based 1550nm optical transceivers for gigabit Ethernet are below $500 right now. If somebody can manufacture a lens assembly that can connect through an SC or LC connector, it is relatively easy to build free space optical links that can span a few hundred yards for about $1K/link. To go further than that, you would need some more intelligence to deal with tracking the source of the signal, etc. For long distance point-to-point links, or for an application like building a backbone for 802.11(a|b|g) access points, this could be quite a practical application.
DCITDave
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DCITDave,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:07:07 PM
re: Free Free Space Optics?
Calm down. We mourn Mr. Entwistle's passing. Didn't intend to offend.

ph
willywilson
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willywilson,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:07:07 PM
re: Free Free Space Optics?
For long distance point-to-point links, or for an application like building a backbone for 802.11(a|b|g) access points, this could be quite a practical application.

--------

Excuse me, but how much of the TOTAL COST (trenching, cabling, glass, electronics, etc.) of the entire link will this save?
wavelength_switch
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wavelength_switch,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:07:06 PM
re: Free Free Space Optics?
"If somebody can manufacture a lens assembly that can connect through an SC or LC connector, it is relatively easy to build free space optical links that can span a few hundred yards for about $1K/link. To go further than that, you would need some more intelligence to deal with tracking the source of the signal, etc."

Unfortunately, the optics is a little more complex than that, unless you want to transmit over less than a few decimeters.
metroshark
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metroshark,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:07:06 PM
re: Free Free Space Optics?
"If somebody can manufacture a lens assembly that can connect through an SC or LC connector, it is relatively easy to build free space optical links that can span a few hundred yards for about $1K/link. To go further than that, you would need some more intelligence to deal with tracking the source of the signal, etc."

Unfortunately, the optics is a little more complex than that, unless you want to transmit over less than a few decimeters.

---

Though the optics are complex, it is not impossible. People have been able to achieve links of a few tens of meter using infrared LEDs and lenses used in remote control devices. If you change your LED to a DFB laser which is going to provide more power and a more coherent light source, it is conceivable to achieve a link that goes over 100 yards without using very expensive or complicated lens subsystem. Maybe not at Gigabit speed, but for a 802.11b base station uplink, all you need is 11Mb/s.
fon_guy
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fon_guy,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/4/2012 | 10:07:05 PM
re: Free Free Space Optics?
careful, kid, or you'll shoot your eye out...
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