Scientists at the Facebook’s Connectivity Lab have developed a new way to detect light signals travelling through the air, an advance that may lead to fast optical wireless networks capable of delivering internet service to remote places. High-speed wired communication networks today use lasers to carry information through optical fibres, but wireless networks are based on radio frequencies or microwaves. “A large fraction of people don’t connect to the internet because the wireless communications infrastructure is not available were they live, mostly in very rural areas of the world,” said Tobias Tiecke, who leads the research team. Light-based wireless communication, also called free-space optical communications, offers a promising way to bring the internet to areas where optical fibres and cell towers can be challenging to deploy in a cost-effective way.
Using laser light to carry information across the atmosphere can potentially offer very high bandwidths and data capacity, but one of the primary challenges has been how to precisely point a very small laser beam carrying the data at a tiny light detector that is some distance away.