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Optical Wireless Broadband (OWB) Technology FAQ

Q: What is Optical Wireless Broadband?
Optical Wireless Broadband is an innovative technology that provides high-capacity Broadband communications by transmitting a modulated beam of visible or infrared light through the atmosphere. This beam of light, operating in the Terahertz portion of the spectrum, is then focused on a receiving lens connected to a high sensitivity receiver through an optical fiber. Today OWB can transmit voice, video and data at speeds up to 1.25 Gbps, and in the near future will top speeds of 10 Gbps -- more than 8,000 times the capacity of a traditional "high speed" connection such as DSL.

Q: How is Optical Wireless Broadband different than Fiber Optics?
As with Fiber Optics, OWB uses a Light Emitting Diode (LED) or a Laser to generate the light transmission. However unlike Fiber Optics, the light energy beam is collimated and transmitted through the air rather than being guided by the thin glass fiber that resides in the Fiber Optic cable.

Q: Is Optical Wireless Broadband a new technology?
OWB technology is based in a technology that was first conceived of by Alexander Graham Bell in 1880, when he created the “Photophone”. The fundamental concept of transmitting voice or data via beams of light remained in obscurity until the 1960s, when the military (both US and international) began developing the concept as a solution for providing secure communications, this technology was called Free Space Optics, or FSO. Private-sector Companies began developing FSO technology for commercial applications in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, and although there was some level of success, challenges with reliability due to weather and distance plagued the technology. Later in the decade, new technological breakthroughs including some critical patents as well as better deployment methodology lead to the birth of the next generation of optical light technology, Optical Wireless Broadband or OWB.

Q: How is Optical Wireless Broadband different than Free Space Optics?
Optical Wireless Broadband is a new generation of technology based on the same fundamental principles as Free Space Optics (FSO), but with advancements in both software and hardware that make it a much more reliable technology.

Q: How does Optical Wireless Broadband technology work?
Optical Wireless Broadband systems work in much the same way as a piece of fiber-optic cable. One end of the system is connected to a fiber-optic cable that inputs a stream of data, that information is transmitted on invisible beams of light between locations, where it connects either to another to a fiber connection or a wireless transmission medium like WiFi and is sent on to end-users.

Q: How are Optical Wireless Broadband systems deployed?
OWB solutions are extremely versatile, and can be installed outdoors or indoors, on building rooftops, exterior walls, towers, behind windows, and in many other scenarios. As long as an appropriate distance is spanned, and a line of sight is available, Optical Wireless Broadband technology can be (and has been) put just about anywhere.

Q: What is the range of an Optical Wireless Broadband connection?
Currently the optimal distance for a carrier-grade OWB system is from 500m to 2 km, although in some conditions the range is much longer. Using point-to-multipoint and mesh OWB systems, coverage can be expanded to blanket an entire city.

Q: What kind of capacity can Optical Wireless Broadband deliver?
Commonly available on the market today are systems in the 1Mbps to 1Gbps range. Industry leader SKYFIBER provides OWB products at 100Mbps and 1.25Gbps, with 2.5 Gbps and 10Gbps products on the short-term roadmap.

Q: Is Optical Wireless Broadband technology safe?
Yes, Optical Wireless Broadband products are safe, both for your eyes and for the environment. In fact, OWB is a much “cleaner” and more environmentally friendly technology than fiber optics, which requires the earth to be dug up to lay cable, and than RF Cellular or Microwave, which generate noise pollution in the form of radio “smog” (radio pollution in which radio waves stray outside their allocated spectrums). The lasers used and the safety precautions that govern them are set by U.S. and international regulatory bodies, and are met or exceeded by OWB technology.

Q: What protocols can Optical Wireless Broadband transport?
Optical Wireless Broadband products can integrate within any service provider network – they can transmit Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, SONET/SDS, ATM and FDDI. Our products can be used for metro network extension, DWDM services, access/last mile, wireless backhaul, disaster recovery, storage area networks and LAN, as well as WAN solutions.

Q: Does weather affect Optical Wireless Broadband?
With properly deployed networks, Optical Wireless Broadband products provide carrier-class availability in all types of weather. Like FSO, heavy rain and fog are the two weather events that test OWB systems most heavily, but with the technological advancements of OWB and proper network planning these concerns can be mitigated. In situations with unusual weather concerns, OWB systems can be deployed with small RF Microwave back-ups to provide additional redundancy.

Q: Why is Optical Wireless Broadband now being deployed on a much larger scale?
As the global demand for bandwidth continues to accelerate, it is becoming exceedingly clear that fiber optics and RF Cellular/Microwave technologies cannot meet all the upcoming need. Fiber Optics is limited by high cost and logistical issues that make it impossible to dig trenches to every building and town that needs high-speed connectivity. RF Cellular and Microwave both are severely limited by the finite availability of spectrum real-estate, there simply will not be enough spectrum to meet the coming need. Cellular networks will have to be supplemented by other technologies, particularly in the area of backhaul, for which OWB is uniquely suited.
Combine these challenges with today’s need to be as lean as possible in capital budgets, and its clear that to meet the needs of global broadband connectivity, the industry needs a viable alternative technology such as OWB to be successful.

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