Alphabet’s X “Moonshot Factory” subsidiary has a lot of cutting-edge projects in development, so it’s always exciting when one of them gets ready for real-world deployment. On Tuesday, X announced that its “Project Taara” high-speed optical wireless broadband endeavor is working with internet provider Econet and its subsidiaries to begin rolling out its tech across Sub-Saharan Africa.
This deployment follows a series of small pilots in Kenya specifically, but now Taara and Econet are ready to start adding high-speed wireless optical links to supplement and enhance Econet service reach more broadly, starting with Liquid Telecom customers in Kenya. Taara is yet another approach to extending the reach of broadband networks to parts of the Earth that have typically not had access or high-speed connections, due primarily to infrastructure challenges.
X’s Taara is essentially a fiber optic network cable without the cable — it uses a narrow, invisible beam of light to transmit data between two terminals that can span up to nearly 12.5 miles, while providing transfer speeds up to 20 Gbps, which means they can be used to connect thousands of customers or households while providing speeds high enough for streaming high-quality video.
Taara’s technology can essentially be used to patch gaps in traditional fiber optic networks, spanning rivers or crossing terrain that would be hard or impossible to span using either under or aboveground cable. They do require unbroken line of sight, so X sets them atop tall structures to help ensure that’s achieved, and it also means they’re best suited to plugging holes in traditional networks, not necessarily building out entirely new ones. But contrasted to efforts like Alphabet’s Loon stratospheric balloons or SpaceX’s Starlink satellite-based network, it’s relatively easy and cheap to get this up and running and working with existing network infrastructure.
X has been piloting Taara in a number of deployments around the world, but this is a sign that it’s maturing toward a commercialization stage that could see it in service as a supplement to existing networks in a lot more places relatively soon.