June 2, 2023

Communication specialists KAUST and Taara from X Corporation have successfully tested a high-speed data transmission system based on optical laser technology in the Red Sea in the Kingdom. This is a promising step towards the comprehensive connection of digital data packages in all regions of the Kingdom with high speed and low cost.

Wireless communication has become one of the main elements of the modern way of life and one of the essentials that cannot be dispensed with due to its great benefits in improving life, especially in areas where there are no means of communication or where communication is poor and intermittent. such as remote rural villages and isolated maritime areas.

Fiber optic (FO) is a popular data transmission solution due to its high speed and stable data delivery in many places, but at the same time it is a very expensive technology that is not sustainable for all places and conditions. Radio frequency (RF) data transmission technology is an alternative to optical fibers in data transmission, but it is unstable because its quality is highly dependent on wave interference in addition to its limited speed.

In this context, a research team led by Prof. Muhammad Salim Al-Alwini, Emeritus Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), and his PhD student Fahd Al-Qurashi, conducted an experiment to explore the feasibility of using low-cost laser technology known as a link Free Space Optics (FSO) as an alternative to fiber and radio frequency in Saudi Arabia. The new technology is based on the propagation of light in free space (air, outer space or vacuum) for wireless transmission of data for communications or the Internet at high speeds on the gigabyte scale.

KAUST recently successfully implemented this technology in collaboration with Taara of X, an American research organization founded by Google and now operating as a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., where 20 GB optical free space communication technology was launched. In the second, between KAUST beach and the island of Umm Misk, two kilometers in the Red Sea. For the first time, this technology was deployed from Tara in the Kingdom in order to improve maritime communications.

KAUST contributes to the preparation of the basic hardware packages needed for the rapid deployment and complex signaling of this technology to regions that lack a physical infrastructure for communication, and conducts the necessary research to improve their systems. This technology is expected to be extended to similar offshore locations throughout the region, providing affordable high-speed Internet access in many offshore areas and islands that lack connectivity. It is noteworthy that this project was carried out with the approval and support of the Saudi Commission for Communications, Space and Technology.

“We are thrilled to partner with KAUST, a leading university in developing research and innovative technologies and bringing them to market,” said Tara Bhavish Mistry, Regional Director for the Middle East and Africa. Tara’s mission is to expand global access to fast, reliable internet, and we are proud to be working with KAUST to bridge the connectivity gap and deploy our technology in areas where fiber is difficult to deploy.”

Free space visual communication technology is very useful and necessary when physical communication is not practical in many places, including thousands of small villages across the Kingdom that are currently not well connected, and offshore areas in the Red Sea that are the future. development of tourism and coastal areas of Saudi Arabia. This technology is inexpensive and ideal for areas where a temporary communication network is required, such as tourist areas in desert areas or remote islands. In addition, this technology will play a fundamental role in environmental monitoring efforts in the Kingdom, especially in monitoring and controlling coral reefs, ocean currents and other marine phenomena from underwater sensors, buoys or boats and transmitting their signals to shore.

Professor Al-Alwini said: “With water covering 71 percent of the Earth’s surface, the increase in human activity in the oceans and seas has highlighted the importance of developing reliable maritime communications technologies. The use of optical communication technology in open space is in line with this, thanks to the great potential in the field of data transmission, it paves the way for the development of innovative and diverse applications based on maritime communication.”

The deployment of this technology is an important achievement and a first step towards understanding how it works in the Saudi Arabian environment, especially in maritime communications in a variety of harsh and unpredictable environmental conditions. In this light, free-space optical communication technology offers a unique compromise. Lasers provide the high speeds required for data transmission at a low cost, but they are also vulnerable to climate and atmospheric influences, unlike optical fibers, which are protected by cables. To address this issue, the research team installed weather stations on site to monitor and test the technology over the next year to evaluate how various environmental conditions such as changes in temperature, wind speed, and humidity affect system performance given variables. such as duration, distance and downtime. The data will be used to improve the system, with the ultimate goal of widespread adoption of this technology in other regions of Saudi Arabia.

Global Internet connectivity will be one of the topics to be discussed at the workshop of Prof. Mohamed Salim Al-Alvini on May 29, 2023, titled “Digitalization to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”, which is part of the Global Conference on Sustainable Development organized by KAUST. .

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