Facebook Announces Connectivity Lab

Facebook today unveiled the Connectivity Lab, part of its Internet.org initiative, which is working on drones, satellites and lasers for connectivity.

Facebook’s Yael Maguire explained some of its plans for low earth orbit satellite and solar powered drones.

Internet.org said it is working with Ascenta, in the UK that specializes in high-altitude long-endurance aircraft. Facebook is also reportedly looking to buy Titan Aerospace, a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can fly for long periods of time without having to land.

The Solara 60 can carry a payload of 250 lbs while the Solara 50 maxes out at 85 kilograms (187 lbs). The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) has sent a letter to the FAA encouraging the agency to allow limited unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations.

Facebook estimates that some 5 billion people — or two-thirds of the world — are without Internet access, and it wants to change that.

Today there are a billion smartphones used worldwide. By 2017 there will be close to 2 billion smartphones and half a billion tablets in use. Perhaps at the World Administrative Radio Conference, governments should get serious about devoting some world bands in the UHF, 3.5GHz, 5GHz, and 70 GHz for “free” and unlicensed public internet access.

NASA’s LADEE spacecraft orbits the moon and connects to Earth at 622 Mbps using lasers. The ground segment must have clear skies.

The 70-80 GHz band might have a better shot at supplying backbone connectivity under cloudy skies. Consumer devices (or modules connected via Bluetooth to tablets) might use White Spaces, the unlicensed 2.4/5GHz bands, or even shortwave for “the last mile”.

Range Networks, the company that developed the open-source basestation software BTS wants to adapt their transceiver to use unlicensed white space spectrum for cellular networks all over the world.

Outernet hopes to use datacasting technology over a low-cost CubeSat constellation. The startup says it will be able to bypass censorship, ensure privacy, and offer a universally-accessible information service at no cost to global citizens. Outernet’s motto is “Information for the world from outer space.” The startup says the entire constellation utilizes globally-accepted, standards-based protocols, such as DVB-S2, Digital Radio Mondiale, and UDP-based WiFi multicasting.

Perhaps it’s just a matter of time before Facebook and Google eviscerate cellular phone companies and their government overlords.

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LED LiFi Doubles Transmit Speed

pureLiFi, the light communications technology company, that transmits data using light waves from ‘off-the-shelf’ LED bulbs, says they have doubled the previous levels of data rates. Li-Fi enables energy-efficient data transmission using LEDs in light fixtures.

The findings were made at the University of Edinburgh’s recently opened Li-Fi R&D centre. pureLiFi is a spin-out company from University of Edinburgh and its Chief Science Officer (CSO) and co-founder, Professor Harald Haas.

pureLiFi demoed the world’s first commercial Li-Fi product, Li-1st, during March at MWC 2014 and CeBIT 2014. pureLiFi’s Li-Fi wireless system went to market in January 2014 and continues to be in high demand from industry customers worldwide.

Professor Harald Haas said:

“At the Li-Fi centre in Edinburgh, we’ve established that we can still transmit data wirelessly at data rates close to 100 per cent when lights are dimmed to levels where they appear to be switched off altogether.”

“This latest development furthers the case for Li-Fi revolutionising wireless communications, helps keep pureLiFi at the forefront of research and commercialisation and shows that Li-Fi really could be the enabler of the Internet of Everything.”

Visible Light Communication (VLC) is the use of light to transmit data wirelessly. Li-Fi – a term coined by Professor Haas – is a technology based on VLC that provides full networking capabilities similar to Wi-Fi, but with significantly greater spatial reuse of bandwidth.

LG just revealed the Smart Lamp, a Bluetooth-enabled bulb designed to give a touch of automation and tech savvy into homes. Its Intelligent Lighting technology communicates with mobile devices via a combination of visual light communication or VLC and Bluetooth LE. All it needs is a specialized app for Android devices running Android 4.3 or higher. iOS version 6 and latter are also supported.

Philips’ hue, on the other hand, requires a ZigBee base station, rather than connecting directly to a phone via Bluetooth.

Apple Buys PrimeSense 3D Sensor

Apple has completed its acquisition of PrimeSense, the Israel-based company focused on 3-D sensor technology, for a price sources said was around $360 million, according to All Things D.

PrimeSense worked with Microsoft’s Kinect gaming product, which uses cameras and depth sensors to capture players’ motions. Microsoft now deploys its own homegrown sensor technology for the current generation of Kinect devices, which ship with the recently launched Xbox One.

PrimeSense has subsequently expanded its product line, creating smaller sensors such as the company’s Capri model, suited for the mobile market.

PrimeSense’s technology could be used in any number of Apple’s actual and hypothetical products in development, including the long-rumored Apple television set or an Apple-made smartwatch.

3D scanners collect shape and appearance data that can then be used to construct digital, three dimensional models.

When Occipital CEO Jeff Powers saw Microsoft’s innovative Kinect , he developed the Structure Sensor, a new 3-D scanning tool that earned the company over $250,000 in a single day on Kickstarter.

Product designers can use their iPads and Occipital’s anodized aluminum add-on to scan objects and create 3-D models suitable for a MakerBot. Free Makerbot 3D software includes; Blender, 3D Tin, Sketchup, OpenSCAD and Wings 3D.

Meanwhile, Motorola has inked a deal with 3D printing company 3D Systems to serve as its hardware partner for Project Ara, Motorola’s plan to create modular smartphones.

See: 3D Scanner for iPad ,3D Facial Recognition Gets Real, MakerBot Demos Pointcloud 3D Scanner , Intel’s Senz3D Camera, Leap Motion Vs Kinect for Windows

Unity Cable Gets Checked

The cable ship Global Sentinel has completed surveying Unity cable which links Japan and the United States. Unity Cable starts in Japan and terminates in Hermosa Beach, California.

The cable was completed in April 2010 and has five fiber pairs, with each fiber pair capable of carrying up to 960 Gigabits per second (Gbps). By having a high fiber count, Unity is able to offer more capacity at lower unit costs. It is said to have a capacity of up to 7.68 Tbit/s.

Unity’s installation cost around US$300 million, and its completion increased Trans-Pacific cable capacity by around 20 per cent. Google is an investor in the cable. The Unity Consortium comprises Bharti Airtel, Global Transit, Google, KDDI Corp., Pacnet, and SingTel.

With the anniversary of 9/11 less than a week away, perhaps monitoring of the infrastructure has been increased. But you wouldn’t need a cable ship for that.

Earth to Space Optical Communications – Again

NASA is preparing to test a new, laser-based communications system that will link up satellites in space with base stations on the ground, reports The Verge. It would provide speeds six times faster, say NASA officials.

The Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) would be integrated onto the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft. LADEE’s 100-day science mission is to determine the composition of the thin lunar atmosphere.

The LLCD mission will also serve as a pathfinder for the 2017 launch of NASA’s Laser Communication Relay Demonstration (LCRD).

That mission will demonstrate the long-term viability of laser communication from a geostationary relay satellite to Earth. Download speeds will top out at around 622Mbps, with uploads hovering around 20Mbps.

During Apollo program, NASA used a 180-foot diameter ground antennas to send and receive data during trips to the moon. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has a limit of 6Mbps, and takes approximately 90 minutes to transmit a single high-resolution image back to Earth.

The Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD), will demonstrate optical communication from lunar orbit using a ground receiver 39-inches in diameter. If it’s not raining or overcast. To maintain communications with LADEE, NASA will also be communicating with LADEE through its Lunar Lasercomm Ground Terminal in White Sands, NM and its Optical Comm Telescope lab in Wrightwood, CA.

Earth to space optical satellite communications has tempted the military. Ten years ago, the $15 billion Transformational Satellite Communications system (TSAT) was planned to have 10-gigabit-per-second laser cross links between satellites, and between satellites and high-altitude manned and unmanned aircraft. It never got off the ground and burned up billions in the process.

To fill the void left by T-Sat’s cancellation, the Air Force bought at least two additional Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites, which itself ballooned many billions over budget. It utilizes the EHF band rather than optical links.

The controversial Airborne Laser, a Boeing-led program, was also shot down. It is kept in storage at the “Boneyard“.

The LADEE/LLCD spacecraft is scheduled to launch in September, and will be the first planetary mission to launch from the Wallops Flight Facility, located on Wallops Island, VA. Spaceflight Now will have live streaming coverage of the launch, scheduled for Sept. 6.

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Intercontinental Arctic Fiber

Global warming has melted so much Arctic ice that telecommunications firms are moving forward with projects that were unthinkable just a few years ago: laying underwater fiber optic cable between Tokyo and London through the Artic Circle. The route is the shortest underwater path between Tokyo and London.

The proposed systems will nearly cut in half the time it takes to send messages from the United Kingdom to Asia, said Walt Ebell, CEO of Kodiak-Kenai Cable Co, in charge of Arctic Link.

Starting this summer, a convoy of ice breakers and specially-adapted polar ice-rated cable laying ships will begin to lay the first ever trans-Arctic Ocean submarine fiber optic cables, reports Extreme Tech.

Three separate cables are being laid. Arctic Link and Artic Fibre will cross the Northwest Passage which runs through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

A third cable, the Russian Optical Trans-Arctic Submarine Cable System (ROTACS), will skirt the north coast of Scandinavia and Russia. All three cables will connect the United Kingdom to Japan, with a smattering of branches that will provide high-speed internet access to a handful of Arctic Circle communities. The completed cables are estimated to cost between $600 million and $1.5 billion each.

All three cables are being laid for the same reasons, says ExtremeTech: Redundancy and speed. It currently takes roughly 230 milliseconds for a packet to go from London to Tokyo; the new cables will reduce this by 30% to 170ms. Currently these routes racking up around 15,000 miles. It’s only 10,000 miles (16,000km) across the Arctic Ocean, and with fewer land crossings.

Redundancy is the main objective. Currently, almost every cable that lands in Asia goes through a choke point in the Middle East or the Luzon Strait between the Philippine and South China seas. If a ship were to drag an anchor across the wrong patch of seabed, billions of people could be disconnected from the internet or reduced to dial-up-like speeds. The three new cables will all come down from the north of Japan, through the relatively-empty Bering Sea.

Sea ice and icebergs pose unique challenges, notes New Scientist. Ships rated to work in ice-ridden waters are needed to lay the cable, and operations are possible for only a few months of the year.

Global broadband wireline subscribers reached 597 million at the end of 2011 and is projected to have passed the 600 million threshold this quarter, according to figures from the Broadband Forum.

For a complete (and interactive) view of the world’s 188 planned and active submarine cables, check out Greg’s Cable Map or TeleGeography.

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