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Econet and X's Project Taara join forces to connect Africa

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Econet Group is teaming up with X's Project Taara to expand and enhance affordable, high-speed connectivity to communities across sub-Saharan Africa.

Project Taara is working with Econet and its subsidiary, Liquid Telecom, to roll out wireless optical communication links across Liquid's fiber-optic backbone and mobile network infrastructure network – starting in Kenya.

Taara (which was previously called FSOC) is a project at X, Alphabet's "moonshot factory," which has innovated wireless optical communication links using beams of light to deliver high-speed, high-capacity connectivity over long distances.

In the same way traditional fiber uses light to carry data through cables in the ground, Taara uses light to transmit information at speeds as high as 20 gigabits per second as a very narrow, invisible beam. This beam is sent between two small Taara terminals to create a link.

One of Taara's terminals being piloted in Kenya.  (Source: X)
One of Taara's terminals being piloted in Kenya.
(Source: X)

"Taara's links will begin rolling out across Liquid Telecom's networks in Kenya first, and will help provide high speed connectivity in places where it's challenging to lay fiber cables, or where deploying fiber might be too costly or dangerous — for example over rivers, across national parks, or in post-conflict zones. This is the first roll-out of Taara's technology in Africa and follows a series of pilots in Kenya last year," said Mahesh Krishnaswamy, Taara Project Lead at X, in a blog post about the partnership.

The pilots included testing across the waters between Mombasa Old Town and Diani in Kwale County, Kenya to bring high-speed bandwidth to communities on the South Coast.

Piloting Taara's wireless optical communication links in Kenya  (Source: X)
Piloting Taara's wireless optical communication links in Kenya
(Source: X)

"The trials we have conducted in Kenya have shown encouraging results of how we can reach new underserved areas with huge bandwidths as well as increase our network reliability. Every time we have connected a new country to our fiber network, our investment into middle mile infrastructure has enabled people outside of the major cities and towns, to enjoy high speed data," Liquid Telecom CEO Nic Rudnick said in a statement.

"By creating a series of links from our partner's fiber optic network over ground to underserved areas, Taara's links can relay high speed, high quality internet to people without the time, cost, and hassle involved in digging trenches or stringing cables along poles," Krishnaswamy explained.

"It's important that the signal between Taara's terminals isn't interrupted, so Taara's units are placed high up on towers, poles or rooftops. Taara links offer a cost-effective and quickly deployable way to bring high-speed internet access to remote areas and help plug critical gaps to major access points, like cell towers and WiFi hotspots."

Taara uses beams of light to deliver high-speed, high-capacity connectivity over long distances.  (Source: X)
Taara uses beams of light to deliver high-speed, high-capacity connectivity over long distances.
(Source: X)

Fiber networks require backup links in order to provide 99.99 % availability. By delivering fiber-like speeds, Taara links offer an effective fiber backup solution where there is no other viable backup fiber route.

Econet and Liquid Telecom plan to make the technology available to other telecoms customers like mobile networks and ISPs, but also national research education networks.

"This technology and our partnership with Taara forms an important building block towards realizing our vision of a digitally connected future that leaves no African behind," added Econet's executive for new enterprises, Norman Moyo.

Econet is a privately held pan-African technology group with customers in the 28 markets, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Liquid Telecom operates across 13 countries primarily in Eastern, Southern and South Africa providing connectivity, hosting and co-location and digital services including a 73,000km fiber network.

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

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