Seminar on Free Space Optics

Ram Pothuraju

Free Space Optics


Mention optical communication and most people think of fiber optics. But light travels through air for a lot less money. So it is hardly a surprise that clever entrepreneurs and technologists are borrowing many of the devices and techniques developed for fiber-optic systems and applying them to what some call fiber-free optical communication. Although it only recently, and rather suddenly, sprang into public awareness, free-space optics is not a new idea. It has roots that go back over 30 years--to the era before fiber-optic cable became the preferred transport medium for high-speed communication.
Description of Free Space Optics

In those days, the notion that FSO systems could provide high-speed connectivity over short distances seemed futuristic, to say the least. But research done at that time has made possible today's free-space optical systems, which can carry full-duplex (simultaneous bidirectional) data at gigabit-per-second rates over metropolitan distances of a few city blocks to a few kilometers.

SO first appeared in the 60's, for military applications. At the end of 80's, it appeared as a commercial option but technological restrictions prevented it from success. Low reach transmission, low capacity, severe alignment problems as well as vulnerability to weather interferences were the major drawbacks at that time. The optical communication without wire, however, evolved! Today, FSO systems guarantee 2.5 Gb/s taxes with carrier class availability. Metropolitan, access and LAN networks are reaping the benefits.

The use of free space optics is particularly interesting when we perceive that the majority of customers does not possess access to fibers as well as fiber installation is expensive and demands long time. Moreover, right-of-way costs, difficulties in obataining government licenses for new fiber installation etc. are further problems that has turned FSO into the option of choice for short reach applications. FSO uses lasers, or light pulses, to send packetized data in the terahertz (THz) spectrum range. Air, ot fiber, is the transport medium. This means that urban businesses needing fast data and Internet access have a significantly lower-cost option.


Free Space Optics (FSO) transmits invisible, eye-safe light beams from one "telescope" to another using low power infrared lasers in the teraHertz spectrum. The beams of light in Free Space Optics (FSO) systems are transmitted by laser light focused on highly sensitive photon detector receivers. These receivers are telescopic lenses able to collect the photon stream and transmit digital data containing a mix of Internet messages, video images, radio signals or computer files.Commercially available systems offer capacities in the range of 100 Mbps to 2.5 Gbps, and demonstration systems report data rates as high as 160 Gbps.


Lasers are one of the most significant inventions of the 20th century - they can be found in many modern products, from CD players to fiber-optic networks. The word laser is actually an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emiission of Radiation. Although stimulated emission was first predicted by Albert Einstein near the beginning of the 20th century, the first working laser was not demonstrated until 1960 when Theodore Maiman did so using a ruby. Maiman's laser was predated by the maser - another acronym, this time for Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. A maser is very similar to a laser except the photons generated by a maser are of a longer wavelength outside the visible and/or infrared spectrum.

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