Wireless Sees the Light


You don’t have to know rocket science to follow the arcane world of high-performance wireless, but it doesn’t hurt.

The CEO of BridgeComm, Barry Matsumori, worked previously for SpaceX and Virgin Galactic and has served as a board member of the Space and Satellite Professionals International.

BridgeComm, optical wireless communication (OWC) company, provides enterprise-grade broadband services, offering rapid point-to-point data transmission via beams of light.

For example, some NASA programs have been using OWC for years to connect from one telescope to another using low-power, eye-safe, infrared lasers in the terahertz spectrum.

BridgeComm serves the market for space exploration — as well as terrestrial networks for 5G connectivity and applications, and airborne lasercom for applications such as intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, in-flight entertainment and backhaul.

What’s an out-of-this-world company like BridgeComm doing in the pages of rAVe Europe?

Matsumori believes many industries here on Earth will soon turn more to optical technologies for wireless — including AV, live events, stadia, smart buildings and others.

Barry Matsumori

Barry Matsumori, CEO of BridgeComm

Yet optical wireless communications was tried in the early 2000s. There are a couple of companies that became famous for failing with it. The BridgeComm CEO says, “One of the reasons it really didn’t take off was the technology wasn’t ready. But more importantly, the bandwidth wasn’t needed then.”

5G is coming and Matsumori (as well as other experts) predicts a wave of new services not limited to clients sitting in one room, services which will require considerably faster, more secure, and bigger bandwidths.

The current wireless technology based on radio frequency (RF) is no longer adequate, argues the BridgeComm CEO. “…the coming demands of the services and capabilities that people need when they’re wirelessly connected, are going to supersede the capabilities of what RF can do.

“And, and that connectivity is not only from a base station to an end user but also the infrastructure that’s supporting that base station. Because the other side of the equation is fiber optic, cable cannot be routed to every single location that a radio has a base station. So it’s a systematic issue …”

“If one does some simple math, you have one gigabit per second per user, and 5G specifies you can go up to 10 gigabits per second per user. And so — let’s just make an easy round number thing — if one has a gigabit per second per user, coming from a base station, and you have 30 users, that’s 30 gigabits … RF has difficulty supporting that rate. Actually, it can’t do it. And so, either you add fiber optic cable, or you look for a technology that supports those bigger rates. Optical wireless communications happen to do that.”

Wireless connectivity will surpass RF’s capabilities. “Most the low- and midbands for RF have been used up. And once you go to the higher bands, one picks up a benefit. And that’s a little bit more speed, but you also pick up drawbacks, and that’s the propagation characteristics, the ability to travel highly deteriorates. And the ability to penetrate into buildings and other areas, also, is degraded severely. So people talk about optical wireless communications and lasers.”

And they’re talking about BridgeComm. Matsumori acknowledges that BridgeComm hopes to lead the way into 5G wireless.

“… In the commercial world, there’s applications like fixed wireless access (FWA), that’s the last mile connectivity to enterprises and residences. And that is from a base station to a fixed asset, and we’ll start there.”

“And then at a later point, we’ll move into mobility. We’ll be able to communicate from the base station to trucks, or to cars or other things in the future in the distant future because there’s a lot of technology still to do …

“And there are many applications in the government world because one of the things they like very much is the security which comes with optical communications. With lasers, it’s very difficult to detect us because we’re in the non-visible range, and therefore very difficult to intercept us. We already have contracts with the U.S. government …”

Matsumori adds, “Traditionally, optical wireless communications is from a transmitter to a receiver, point-to-point, and that was it. That obviously limits its applicability. Whereas we have developed the ability to do point-to-multipoint communications (something we term one-to-many communications). This acts very much like RF so we can support a multitude of parties with much higher bandwidth. That means that applications like mobility, being able to support end users as they travel and track them is part of our capability we’re developing.”

Much of this seems to be tied in with 5G, which is moving in different velocities in different places. How far away are we?

BridgeComm’s CEO also says, “In terms of applicability to infrastructure, we’re not that far away at all. We were already having discussions and demonstrations with commercial carriers, mobile carriers, mobile and fixed carriers. And I can see that they have already started adopting product to put in place early next year.”

And 5G isn’t the only technology driving OWC adoption.

At home, Matsumori has an Oculus 2 reflecting his interest in VR/AR/MR (known collectively as “XR”).

“Certainly, XR is not going to be limited to sitting in one’s room and doing it off local in-house or in-office Wi-Fi. The capability of doing VR or AR is going to need portability. And in moving from space to space because it’s going to be a mix of being able to see what’s in front of you and simultaneously and dynamically going into augmented or virtual worlds.

“I’m a big believer in virtual conference rooms using holography. That’s the way to go. Absolutely. Because what we’re doing right now, with 2D conferencing, it doesn’t have the right involvement, the feedback just isn’t there. Whereas going into something like holography will make it much more like you’re actually in a real meeting. So I’m a big fan of that.

“I also think VR is going to be huge in terms of industry perspective. Being able to view objects, situations, training — that’s much richer than what can be done even in the real world.

“I’m also a big fan that new experiences are going to come from VR — because not everybody can go to Mount Everest, not everybody can visit India. And yet, everybody can do VR and do it safely.”

VR still needs much more resolution, more transducers, all those things which will allow richer experiences. By then, optical wireless communication could offer the innovation needed to extend the capabilities of infrastructure to support XR devices.

BridgeComm’s CEO believes OWC will be vital in supporting the growth of extended reality as well augmenting RF, fiber and mmWave technologies by extending the capabilities of the terrestrial fiber grid.

The big question remaining, suggests Barry Matsumori, isn’t if ProAV will see the light of optical wireless communications, but when.

BridgeComm is betting it’s more sooner than later.