Canon beams up new ways to connect networks

Connecting networks together is no longer just about fibre and cables. Now it can also be done with a laser beam.

The Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) recently announced the installation of Canon’s Canobeam DT-130 solution that allows an organization to connect its network between its two locations across the street from one another.

Shane Gienow, director of IT for the EEDC, said his company thought about using fibre but felt the cost was too high and did not want be locked into a lease.

“With the [Canobeam] we buy the thing over a period of a few years, and then it is paid for and we own it outright,” said Gienow.

Another aspect he liked was the speed of the solution, which was equivalent to fibre.

The Canobeam DT-130 uses a line-of-sight beam of light to transmit data of up to 1.25 Gigabit connectivity via Free Space Optics.

“The [Canobeam unit] is basically a lens slightly larger than a shoe box. The front of the housing has optical elements to control and guide the laser and focus the laser accordingly,” said Carlo Beltrano, manager broadcast and communication division for Canon.

He said the Canobeam was originally developed to transmit audio and video traffic. However, as digital technology evolved, the Canobeam became an alternative to not only transmitting video and audio but also any digital data.

Gienow said having the type of connectivity the solution provides is critical to his organization. “We are an information-based company, our major asset is information. This is how we communicate. If the link goes down, everyone in the company can just go home.”

However, Gienow added that he has built in some redundancy so if the link were to fail, its Ethernet network would function on the microwave system that runs the EEDC phone network. Conversely, if the organization’s phone system went down, it would fail over to the optical system.

The EEDC has been using the DT-130 for almost a year and has faced some unique challenges during its implementation.

“Usually in IT, you don’t think about things like weather as a reason why your network may be dropping off,” Gienow said. “When we first started testing we got some very windy days and every time there was a huge gust of wind we thought we dropped a signal.”

To compensate, his team bolted down the units tighter; the technology has been problem-free since — even during sleet, hail and fog. Beltrano attributes this to the DT-130’s auto tracking capability that realigns the beams for such phenomena as wind gusts to give maximum transmission power. As well, auto tracking allows transmission at one kilometre in only 500-metre visibility conditions.

Security was another factor in the EEDC’s decision to use the Canobeam solution. Gienow said the link would be physically impossible to break, as it is locked and physically secure on the rooftops of high buildings. Beltrano added that it would be pretty difficult to intercept the signal in mid-air unlike radio frequencies that bounce everywhere.

As well, since Canobeam does not use radio waves, companies like EEDC do not have to pay for any radio frequency licences. The only cost would be general maintenance and electricity.