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Optical/IP

Fog Clears for Free-Space Optics

Free-space optics –- beaming light pulses through the air –- is moving closer to being a realistic alternative to laying fiber in access networks, judging by yesterday’s announcement of an additional $6.5 million round of funding for one of the players, LightPointe Communications Inc. (see LightPointe Bags Another $6.5M).

The additional funding, in the form of borrowing rather than equity finance, indicates that Lightpointe is onto something, namely a way to sidestep the biggest snag facing free-space optics -- that its reach is drastically shortened in fog.

Lightpointe’s solution is to combine free-space optics with a millimeter or microwave radio backup. When the free-space optics stops working in fog, the microwave kicks in and restores the connection. The microwave won’t work in heavy rain, but the free-space optics will –- and luckily, you don’t get fog and heavy rain at the same time.

Together, according to Lightpointe, the two technologies work together like a tag wrestling team, guaranteeing that connections will stay up for 99.999 percent of the time –- the so-called “five nines” reliability figure often quoted as a target for telecom equipment.

Other companies are known to be working on similar “hybrid optical–wireless systems” but appear to be less advanced. Lightpointe already has 400 installations in operation, according to its founder and CTO, Heinz Willebrand.

Israel’s Jolt Ltd. had just started to work on hybrid optical–wireless when it was taken over by MRV Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: MRVC). Shortly afterwards, MRV also bought Astro Terra Corp., which had developed a hybrid optical-wireless system in partnership with Adaptive Broadband Inc. Jolt and AstroTerra recently merged to become Optical Access Inc. (see Optical Access Bids for $108 Million IPO).

"At one field trial in Denver, companies had to show up with a 622-Gbit/s system or else they didn't get on the roof," says Willebrand. Jolt and PAV Data Systems Ltd., another established optical wireless vendor, weren’t there, while AirFiber Inc., a vendor backed by Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) was, says Willebrand (see Wireless Wonders).

Like most things to do with free-space optics, Lightpointe is a little unusual. It shipped products before fluffing up its public image, and managed to live off cash flow for the first 18 months of its existence. Willebrand also says he leaps out of bed and screams "networks!" every morning, which sounds rather jolly.

LightPointe is now expanding fast. It’s opened research facilities in Europe and moved into new offices in the U.S (see LightPointe Buys German Optics Plant and LightPointe Moves to Larger Quarters). It’s also installed a gray-haired CEO – John Griffin (see LightPointe Names CEO) - possibly in preparation for an IPO.



The latest round of debt finance comes from Silicon Valley Bank and GATX Ventures Inc.. It comes only a few months after Lightpointe’s first round (see $12M 1st Round for LightPointe) and brings total funding to $18.5 million.

–- Pauline Rigby, senior editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.com

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joestudz 12/4/2012 | 9:02:15 PM
re: Fog Clears for Free-Space Optics From your article:
<"At one field trial in Denver, companies had to show up with a 622-Gbit/s system or else they didn't get on the roof," says Willebrand. Jolt and PAV Data Systems Ltd., another established optical wireless vendor, werenGÇÖt there, while AirFiber Inc., a vendor backed by Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT - message board) was, says Willebrand (see Wireless Wonders ).>

Is Willebrand saying his company was there with a 622-Gbit/s system?
Who else besides Airfiber was there with a 622 Gbit/s system?

joestudz 12/4/2012 | 9:02:15 PM
re: Fog Clears for Free-Space Optics While having a dual system with radio/microwave back-up may be needed in some places I personally think a mesh architecture negates the need in that the info has several paths to use to transmit the info.
When MRVC acquired Jolt and AstroTerra and started Optical Access (OPXS) they leaped into the lead with some 3000 plus operating systems. To my knowledge most are point to point and do not have a slow speed back up link.
joestudz 12/4/2012 | 9:02:15 PM
re: Fog Clears for Free-Space Optics Not really. If you read some of the material on the OPXS (Optical Access) website they discuss the added cost.
Pauline Rigby 12/4/2012 | 9:02:15 PM
re: Fog Clears for Free-Space Optics LightPointe needs two systems -- the optical and the micro- (or millimeter) wave. Does that make it an expensive solution?
Pauline Rigby 12/4/2012 | 9:02:14 PM
re: Fog Clears for Free-Space Optics Re: your e-mail which said that a mesh negates the need for a microwavebackup. What if it's foggy all over the mesh? If one transmitter is taken out by fog, it wouldn't matter how many neighbouring transmitters it had, none of them would get through.

LightPointe told me that their system is mesh compatible. It has SNMP built in from day one, Willebrand said.

Pauline Rigby
Pauline Rigby 12/4/2012 | 9:02:14 PM
re: Fog Clears for Free-Space Optics That's a very interesting question. Sadly, I can't answer it. Maybe someone else reading this board can...

Pauline Rigby
joestudz 12/4/2012 | 9:02:13 PM
re: Fog Clears for Free-Space Optics Not sure a mesh obviates the need for a RF/microwave backup, but it should minimize the need in that:
1. it offers at least 2 routes for the info to travel
2. I would expect a mesh approach to equate to shorter distances between nodes and shorter distances between nodes should minimize the impact of fog on signal.

Anybody with other thoughts, one way or other?
Pauline Rigby 12/4/2012 | 9:02:13 PM
re: Fog Clears for Free-Space Optics To my knowledge, Airfiber doesn't use a microwave backup. I didn't mean to imply that it did.

Terabeam is pursuing a different model. It's a carrier, not just an equipment vendor, so wouldn't show up at these trials anyway.

Other vendors with simple point-to-point optical links include: CBL, Optel and GOC in Germany, PAV Data in the U.K. and Plaintree and Canon in the U.S.

As for spectrum and licensing issues, there are some unlicensed bands available. These vary from country to country. LightPointe tells me that its system used unlicensed bands. "'Free'-space should mean just that, no licensing fees," it said.

I'm perplexed by everyone's assertion that a mesh obviates the need for a microwave backup. Please explain in more detail.
kozza 12/4/2012 | 9:02:13 PM
re: Fog Clears for Free-Space Optics Question?
Jack Frost would like to know how these systems would operate back in blighty, the mid west or the east coast in winter?

Ps
Pauline your articles are brill
kozza 12/4/2012 | 9:02:12 PM
re: Fog Clears for Free-Space Optics With regard the microwve link I am
not quite sure what the BW of the microwave link proposed are but compared to the optical cross link it has to be potentially lower, ie Mbits rather than Gbits.

Therefore in a high bandwidth application I would go for a mesh approach.

Also fog is more of a local issue in some places ie take LA where fog tends to be around the beach cities. Therefore one could send the signal from one fog bound place to another via an intermedary point inland.

anyway these are just a few ideas

cheers
kozza
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