Friday, November 16, 2001

George Mindling Column 11-16-2001


The Best and the Worst


When World War III started on Sept. 11, communications technology was put to the supreme test in New York City. While we struggle to understand the barbaric attack on innocent civilians by a primitive, medieval tribal society, we have found again that ingenuity and resolve rises against incredible obstacles.

The loss of the World Trade towers was a devastating blow in ways not always visible to the television cameras. The loss of Con Ed's power grid and the loss of most of the areas telephone exchanges brought communications in the area to an absolute standstill. One of the technologies ironically being tested in the area at the time of the sneak attack, was FSO, or Free-Space Optics. a trade marl of Lightpointe Inc. (http://www.lightpointe.com).

Fiber optics have been used for many years to replace traditional copper transmission media. By inputting controlled, disciplined light, usually by laser, into a fiberglass "pipe," fiber optics has elevated communications to new levels of speed and efficiency.

Ironically, the technology being tested in New York was a laser transmission and reception system without the fiber-optic cable. The system uses "line of sight," which means the transmitting and receiving stations must physically be able to see each other. Lightpointe was being tested by a BLEC (Building Local Exchange Carrier), Rockefeller Group Telecom Services. The FSO system replaced two high speed T-l trunks Without the need to run cables or access any part of a physical network.

The equipment was installed using switches and PBXs available from unaffected customers outside the
boundaries of the affected area. Lightpointe claims the equipment can normally be set-up in a few hours as there is no spectrum licensing required. FSO is considered an optical medium. not a wireless one.

There are several planning issues about environmentally protecting the "light beam." Physical obstructions, such as a bird flying between the two transceivers, would cause a momentary but not unrecoverable loss of carrier and data. Rain or snow, however. have little or no effect on the system . According to Lightpointe, the only natural impediment to the flow of data is fog. as it disperses the light through the suspended water droplets.

Whether or not FSO is adapted by industry for standard use remains to be seen. The fact that it was adapted to solve a crises in communication proves that ingenuity and quick thinking is alive and well in this country. The FSO story is but one of many about replacing damaged telephone or data systems in the area around the World Trade center. While many systems are back in business in the surrounding area with backup or temporary facilities, repairing all of the power grids and networks is a monumental task that cannot be completed until the final bit of debris is removed.

When history looks back at us in a thousand years, will they see another Rome, defeated by the Barbarians, or will they see that the United States and the rest of the unified Free World triumphed over evil? It will take far more than technology to win; but it certainly showcases the ability to rise above adversity and terror, and the ability to think on our feet.

George Mindling © 2001

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