United using lasers to boost MAN power

United Networks is using free space optics, a laser-based technology, to extend its Auckland metropolitan area network.

United Networks is using free space optics, a laser-based technology, to extend its Auckland metropolitan area network.

The use of free space optics is a temporary measure until the company is making enough money to justify an extension of United’s gas pipe-based fibre-optic network, says United communications general manager Sean McDonald.

“We have a series of mobile free space optics devices — if we get a request from a partner to service a particular building, we’ll deploy free space optics until revenues make fibre justifiable.”

United has made several extensions with fibre, in both Auckland and Wellington, and there are two free space optics extensions in operation in Auckland, one on the North Shore and the other linking its node at Microsoft house on the city’s waterfront up to College Hill in thesuburb of Ponsonby.

United asset strategy manager David Robinson says free space optics has some limitations in certain weather, but they are minimised by United offering connections up to only 2km and that the company is “up front” about the limitations.

“We engineer it so that the only limitation is fog — if we created a very long link, other atmospheric conditions such as heavy rain my affect it.” In heavy fog, the service’s range would be about double that of the human eye, he says, “and [the fog] would probably take the link down.”

For that reason, he says, free space optics “would be unsuitable for people operating critical applications but for others wanting to send the occasional file at high speed, it’s great”.

United’s free space optics equipment is supplied by US company Optical Access.

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