Andrew Grieve is President & CEO of fSONA. He brings over 15 years management experience to fSONA, gained in progressively senior roles in accounting and manufacturing management. As Production Manager for a high-tech manufacturing department he successfully developed the program from a start-up phase to full production and was subsequently promoted to Director of Operations where he had complete responsibility for both the Manufacturing and Customer Service departments.
Andrew Grieve is a Certified Management Accountant and holds a Diploma in Operations Management from BCIT.
Free Space Optical Wireless access is perfect complement to broadband networks of any kind, not least for Africa and the Middle East. It provides high speed wide band access to supplement places that cannot be covered ordinarily and deliver tamper-proof connection between two points. It can be installed within the hour and be housed in a building, even behind glass, or placed outdoors in harsh conditions. However, it needs clear line of sight for its laser beam to connect point-to-point. It must not exceed the intensity that can harm the human eye but be strong enough even when hampered temporarily by fog. This solution can boost mobile operators’ broadband in the region, or provide highly secure wireless LAN for an enterprise.
Many parts of the Middle East and Africa are undergoing major transformations. Some are embracing democratic voting systems, and others are opening up to free market economies. One specific requirement unites all these countries, and that is the need for a fast, reliable telecommunications infrastructure. Some media commentators feel that broadband could be the key to post-revolution Egypt’s economic revival. Others believe that the change of government in Libya will open up its relatively underdeveloped broadband market. What is extremely important for both of these countries, and many more in the Middle East and Africa, is that the broadband solutions that are deployed are cost-effective, dependable and accessible for all businesses and consumers throughout the regions. Access to broadband will have a significant and positive impact on the lives of so many people in these markets - enabling them to access, communicate, share, research, develop and trade with family, friends and colleagues anywhere in the world.
There are numerous options in terms of network infrastructure available today, ranging from underground fibre cables, radio frequency (RF) system networks using antennae and receivers to free space optical wireless solutions. Often one MNO (Mobile Operator) or Internet Service Provider (ISP) may provide services to customers using one or a combination of these infrastructure options, depending on the use case. Free space optics or optical wireless systems represent one of the most promising approaches for addressing issues pertaining to rolling-out broadband and network solutions in environments or areas that may at first appear to be inhospitable or non-navigable.
An optical wireless system is a ‘radio’ system that uses infrared ‘light’ or lasers instead of radio waves, or as an optical communications system that transmits laser beams point-to-point through the air, instead of along a fibre cable. Optical wireless is designed to provide simple, easy-to-deploy, and most importantly, cost-effective solutions for ‘last mile’ broadband access, Local Area Network (LAN) bridging and PCS (Personal Communication Service) /cellular backhaul applications. Optical wireless hardware is inherently robust and designed to be mounted on the ground or a structure to establish communication links by transmitting laser beams directly through the atmosphere. The benefits of optical wireless are numerous, especially in emerging markets where demand for broadband is high and rolling out traditional solutions may often be time-consuming and sometimes problematic.
Unlike microwave radio frequency systems, when deploying optical wireless solutions no spectrum licensing or frequency coordination with other users are required. Freedom from licensing and regulation translates into ease, speed and low cost deployment. Not having to negotiate these processes and procedures means the time to market for FSO (Free Space Optical) solutions is greatly reduced when compared with the deployment of standard cellular network equipment. Indeed, once a suitable line of sight is identified, an optical wireless point-to-point link can typically be installed and brought to operational status in approximately one hour or less.
This is ideal for MNOs addressing backhaul issues or plugging gaps in their network. Due to the speed of deployment, they start seeing return on investment sooner than with other solutions. This is especially true in urban areas where the obstacles like concrete buildings block transmission, leading to coverage black spots where users are unable to access the network. This low cost deployment means MNOs can pass on cost savings to end users, and gain an important competitive advantage over other operators offering similar services.
Optical wireless can also complement both RF and wireline networks, providing fibre-like capacity at a low cost. The speeds provided by optical wireless are comparable to fibre transmission and can be carried with very low error rates. Available systems offer capacities in the range of 100 Mbps to 2.5 Gbps, and demonstration systems have reported data rates as high as 160 Gbps. Moreover, optical wireless hardware can help with future-proofing network infrastructure, as in addition to being a protocol-independent broadband conduit, it can easily integrate with current legacy and next generation networks, making it endlessly scalable.
Optical wireless is not only easy to deploy and cost-effective but also extremely secure as there is no interference from other systems or equipment and the point-to-point laser signal is extremely difficult to intercept; making this an attractive option for military or other secure institutions requiring broadband access or a secure Local Area Network. Since optical wireless transceivers can transmit and receive through windows, it is possible to mount them inside buildings, reinforcing the security element, reducing the need to compete for roof space, simplifying wiring and cabling, and permitting the equipment to operate in a very favourable environment. The only essential requirement is line of sight between the two ends of the link.
In terms of outdoor uses, optical wireless systems are particularly suited to the Middle Eastern and African climates as they are designed to withstand the harshest of weather conditions - excessive heat, sandstorms in deserts, and heavy rain. The various optical wireless models have even been designed to survive a lightning strike.
However, optical wireless systems are not without challenges. First, it is mandatory that such systems are eye-safe, which means that they must pose no danger to people who might happen to look directly into the communications beam. This means that there is an upper limit around the intensity of the transmitted laser beam. Second, fog can slightly attenuate the infrared wavelengths that are employed in the optical wireless systems, but the effect of fog is only temporary.
These two challenges highlight the critical design trade off that must be resolved to field a successful optical wireless system. The system must transmit sufficient power that the free space communication link will be available a high percentage of the time, even with some degree of fog attenuation, but the power must not be so high as to exceed eye-safe limits.
On balance however, optical wireless represents a mature, reliable approach for broadband access. Such systems have been engineered to provide robust performance that is highly competitive with other access approaches, offering high capacity, excellent availability, rapid deployment in one hour or less and providing the best cost per bit in the industry. These systems are compatible with a wide range of applications and markets, and they are sufficiently flexible as to be easily implemented using a variety of different architectures. All of these attributes combined with the reliability and durability of the optical wireless solution and its hardware makes it an ideal solution for MNOs, ISP and secure enterprises in Middle Eastern and African countries.