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Shooting for the stars

A light shines bright in the race for faster internet connection speeds. And that light is from Chinatown, Singapore.

Last Friday, a homegrown company announced that they have raised SGD 2.5 million in seed funding for its out-of-this-world product. The company is building the world’s first Space Laser Network which uses a wireless laser communication and nano-satellites for ultrahigh commercial bandwidth communication for virtually anyone around the world.

They aim to develop a constellation of nano-satellites which use lasers to transfer and relay data for ground, satellite and deep space applications. If successful, their innovation will be the fastest (up to 100 Gbps), long-distance, point-to-point wireless communication network possible.

The speed which the company has raised its funds is particularly notable given the startup is only two years old. Beginning December of last year, the company has received funding from notable Singapore and US investors.

Need for Speed

Even more impressive is what the company aims to achieve with their innovation.

CEO and co-founder of the startup said the company was started because there was “no action plan to build a scalable, underlying infrastructure needed, either on the planet of in deep space” to support the digitally driven future over the next century. They want to bring connectivity to emerging markets, deliver high-speed internet to cities, and eventually, bring their technology to space.

The company wanted to challenge current costs and connectivity issues. The CEO and co-founder also said, “The average cost of transcontinental high bandwidth undersea cables ranges from over hundreds of millions to billions of dollars in capital expenditure, and tens of million dollars in annual maintenance. Existing wireless technologies have reached high levels of spectrum congestion leading to a limit on how much connectivity they can support.”

With a lot of talk about how the internet is going to be, and already is, instrumental in obtaining basic human rights, the startup’s technology is pertinent. Technologies like blockchain and the Internet of Things present promising use case for achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. However, to unleash the potential of these technologies, going online is the first stepping hurdle to cross. Unfortunately, the cost of uptake is enormous.

95% of the world’s internet need is served by undersea cable infrastructure which were developed in the 1990s and 2000s. These cables are prone to accidental damage (such as a hungry shark or the anchor of a docked marine vessel) and can easily be intercepted, causing internet service disruption. Moreover, if the internet is to facilitate more services, then current infrastructure needs a massive overhaul. Infrastructure needs to be able to deal with the huge volume of data which will be generated.

While satellite communication has been useful in overcoming these problems, significant barriers persist. The cost of building and launching satellites are too high, and high bandwidths per downlink must be supported more. Furthermore, current small satellites can only deliver up to 50-100 Mbps on average. The spectrum costs of such satellites are foreseen to spike given the X-brand and K-brand spectrums which are becoming more congested. To overcome these problems, the next generation of technology must harness the bandwidth of fibre optics and the flexibility of radio waves.

Thus, the Singapore company’s innovation offers a promising solution. Its technology comes with zero spectrum costs and rapid deployment timelines in a small size, weight and power package. In the upcoming three years, the company has plans to develop a constellation of nano-satellites for ground, satellite, and deep space applications.

Take Off

Using the seed capital it has raised, the startup has been working hard. Its office has been transformed into a laser communication lab. It employs some of the top engineers and scientists from multi-disciplinary fields.

Monies will also be channelled into R&D efforts in wireless laser communications for both terrestrial and space. The team is currently conducting tests for an on-ground version of their prototype wireless laser communication technology to provide state-of-the-art, fiber-like ultra-high bandwidth wireless backhaul to telecom and enterprise partners. Partners are from Singapore and overseas.

The startup has already conducted a public demonstration of their technology in a joint project partnership. Using the startup’s wireless fibre optics technology, a major public library near Seoul, South Korea, received a huge improvement in its internet bandwidth speed by twenty times.

At the Telecom Infra Project Summit 2018, the local company will share further details of its R&D and commercial progress for both terrestrial and space.

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