Facebook announces submarine cables and millimeter wave mesh to bring internet to dark areas

Facebook is working on the first-ever 24-fiber-pair transatlantic submarine cable system that will link Europe and the United States with a capacity of half a petabit per second, or roughly half a million gigabits. The company also announced its Terragraph technology, which creates a millimeter wave mesh to solve the last mile connectivity problem.

The company did not reveal more details on when the submarine cable will be operational.

However, Facebook’s connectivity team shared more details about its 2Africa Pearls submarine cable, which was announced earlier this year. The cable of the African cable project will connect Africa with Asia and Europe, landing in 46 cities in 33 countries.

“We have even designed floating power plants that sit in the middle of the ocean, harnessing the power of the sun and waves, transmitting it to cables at the bottom of the ocean, allowing us to increase their capacity,” said Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer. during a press briefing.

“We are building more than 150,000 km of submarine cables with our partners, as well as new technologies that will significantly improve the capacity and performance of these cables. This will have a major impact on underserved regions of the world, especially in Africa, where our work is expected to triple, triple the amount of Internet bandwidth reaching the continent, ”explained Dan Rabinovitsj, vice president of Facebook Connectivity.

The company has built a predictive model to help them predict where submarine cable routes need to be built to ensure high network availability. “Each route is screened for localized hazards associated with fishing and underwater volcanoes, etc.,” explained Cynthia Perret, Program Manager – Submarine Cables at Facebook.

Connection countries for the 2Africa Pearl maritime cable.

Perret pointed out that very often the capacity of a submarine cable is limited by the amount of electricity it can receive, via the booster boxes, and this generally comes from the earth. “We are exploring a sustainable way to do this using a combination of wave energy converters and solar panels. The goal is to continuously generate up to 25 kilowatts of electricity to power two submarine cables at different points in the middle of the ocean, ”she said, although the technology is still being developed. test.

Facebook’s Terragraph technology, meanwhile, wants to solve the last mile connectivity problem, especially in areas where laying fiber-optic cable to every home might not be possible. It is already in use in Anchorage, Alaska, and Perth, Australia. Terragraph is used in Alaska by Alaska Communications, where fiber deployment is much more difficult given the environmental conditions.

It is a transmitter box mounted on traffic signs and street lights and offers wireless multi-gigabit performance. Yael Maguire, vice president of engineering at Facebook, explained that Terragraph is like “extending fiber into the air” and that it builds on “existing fiber points by expanding their capacity” .

Terragraph boxes act as a sort of mesh network and Facebook claims to have worked with a number of partners including Qualcomm to build it. It uses mm-wave technology at a 60Hz spectrum. Facebook also tested this in its own Menlo Park headquarters before rolling out the technology prototype.

Terragraph is the company’s last mile connectivity solution for delivering high-speed over-the-air internet.

“We have licensed Terragraph free to manufacturers and five of them are now selling their Terragraph compatible products. These partners have shipped over 30,000 Terragraph units to over 100 service providers, ”explained Maguire.

Facebook says Terragraph is designed to work in extreme conditions, whether it’s rain, snow, wind or heat. It can also withstand temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees C and as high as 55 degrees. It is touted as a multipoint solution, which can transmit the network to multiple points, even with minor obstructions, and help establish reliable, high-speed connectivity for nearby homes and businesses.

Facebook also wants to tackle the problem of laying fiber cables more quickly. The solution is a robot called Bombyx that travels along existing power lines and installs fiber optic cables directly over them. Bombyx can help reduce the cost of fiber deployment. The company worked with top plastics experts to develop a special sheath material for the fiber to help it survive the high temperatures of the power line.

He also claims that their fiber cable is 10 times lighter and smaller than normal aerial fiber cable, and three times smaller than the cable used in traditional deployment.

Facebook’s Bombyx robot can deploy fiber optic cable using power lines.

As for the Bombyx, it was designed to withstand a line voltage between 10,000 and 35,000 volts. “We had to design special circuits and boxes to handle this,” said Karthik Yogeeswaran, wireless systems engineer at Facebook. He pointed out that the robot also has to overcome obstacles on power lines and walk a tightrope on them as it lays the fiber.

“Our solution here was to use propellant fans, similar to those used in drones. The control algorithm to keep the robot stable turned out to be a much more difficult problem than expected. The robot is suspended on a curve, so the front and back experience different swaying conditions, making it even more difficult. Each movement induces vibrations and changes in the robot’s center of gravity. The control algorithm must compensate by adjusting the speed of all thrusters to keep the robot vertical while simultaneously preventing the cable from swaying, ”he stressed.

In order to overcome the obstacles, the robot will use a 3D world map, generated from an on-board stereo camera. Bombyx is still in the prototype phase for now, although Facebook is starting discussions with a handful of electric utility companies.

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