Alphabet — the parent company of Google — is embarking on an ambitious endeavor to extend internet access to remote and underserved regions. Departing from the conventional use of high-altitude balloons in the stratosphere, Alphabet is employing cutting-edge laser technology to achieve its goal.

This project, known as Taara and developed within X (Alphabet’s renowned innovation lab), is revolutionizing connectivity solutions. Taara emerged in 2016 after previous attempts with stratospheric balloons proved to be costly and faced significant challenges. However, under the guidance of Mahesh Krishnaswamy, Taara has made remarkable strides in utilizing laser technology for internet access.

Alphabet is employing cutting-edge laser technology to extend internet access to remote and underserved regions. (Image: “Antenna” by Ross_Angus)

In collaboration with Bharti Airtel, a prominent telecommunications and internet provider in India, Taara is preparing for large-scale implementation of its innovative approach. While the financial specifics of this partnership remain undisclosed, its potential impact is substantial.

Taara’s success is already evident, with internet service connections established in 13 countries, including Australia, Kenya, and Fiji. Partnerships have been forged with Econet Group and its subsidiary Liquid Telecom in Africa, Bluetown in India, and Digicel in the Pacific Islands.

Cost-effective internet access

Krishnaswamy envisions providing cost-effective internet access to end consumers, ensuring affordability by minimizing the dollar-per-gigabyte expenditure. To achieve this, Taara utilizes compact laser-based devices, comparable in size to traffic lights, to transmit data wirelessly, eliminating the need for traditional fiber-optic cables. This transformative technology enables companies like Bharti Airtel to establish reliable communication infrastructure in remote and challenging terrains.

Taara’s inception can be traced back to Krishnaswamy’s involvement in Loon, an earlier project that aimed to connect data between high-altitude balloons using lasers. Drawing inspiration from this experience, Krishnaswamy repurposed the technology for ground-based applications, leading to the birth of Taara.

Revered as the “captain of moonshots,” Astro Teller, the leader of X, characterizes Taara as an extraordinary feat, surpassing the data transmission capabilities of Loon. X, Alphabet’s prominent research division, has consistently fostered groundbreaking initiatives like Waymo, Wing, and Verily Life Sciences.

Great potential

Randeep Sekhon, Chief Technology Officer of Bharti Airtel, believes Taara’s impact extends beyond remote areas, with the potential to revolutionize internet connectivity in urban settings. By beaming data between buildings, Taara offers a cost-effective alternative to the cumbersome process of deploying fiber-optic cables. Sekhon envisions this approach as a disruptive force in the industry.

Recently, Krishnaswamy revisited his childhood village, Osur, in India to install Taara equipment, facilitating high-speed internet access for the first time. This milestone is just the beginning, as there are countless villages across India awaiting connectivity.

A $10 billion investment from Alphabet

Alphabet has demonstrated its commitment to digitizing India through a $10 billion investment and a $700 million stake in Bharti Airtel. Although X and Google are sibling companies within Alphabet, the partnership between Taara and Bharti Airtel is distinct from Google’s investment.

While acknowledging the imperfections of the internet, Astro Teller proposes that improving the quality of online content could be the focus of a future moonshot initiative, demonstrating Alphabet’s dedication to constant innovation and progress.

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