The market for optical wireless technology remains small. But the
technology has come to the rescue of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer
Center in crowded Manhattan, where digging a trench for an optical
cable could take months, given the need for construction approvals.
The cancer center operates without paper or medical charts, so all data
and voice connections need a backup pathway, CIO Patricia Skarulis said
last week. Her staff has tried just about every kind of networking
technology, including leased lines and microwave communications, she
noted. It discovered optical wireless three years ago and installed
equipment from LightPointe Inc. as a backup link between two buildings.
Last summer, the center deployed its third optical wireless link. This
time, however, it used the optical technology as a primary link that is
backed up by two T1 land lines, Skarulis said. Optical wireless is
“reliable and higher-speed than the alternatives and cost-effective,”
For example, Skarulis said Sloan-Kettering has found that an optical
wireless link pays for itself within seven months, whereas a leased
line has a higher overall cost and offers lower throughput.
An optical wireless connection running at 1Gbit/sec. costs US$50,000 to
$60,000, she said. In contrast, there’s a $10,000 monthly fee for a
leased 100Mbit/sec. fiber-optic cable.
Pat Carragee, director of information systems at the cancer center,
said it took two days to install the newest optical wireless gear in
the two buildings being linked. The IT staff used rooms with windows
instead of doing a more complicated rooftop installation, Carragee said.
Optical wireless, first developed in the 1960s, is a line-of-sight
technology that uses beams of light as the primary data path. Jack
Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates in Northboro, Mass., and Gartner
Inc. analyst Bettina Tratz-Ryan both said the market for the technology
is still small, with several vendors generating less than $200 million
in annual sales globally.
But Gold and Tratz-Ryan said optical wireless can greatly reduce
deployment times and offer high bandwidth at a comparatively low cost.
Sloan-Kettering has used equipment from San Diego-based LightPointe on
all three of its installations. Next year, the center plans to install
a fourth optical wireless connection to link end users in a 20-story
research tower to its LAN, Carragee said.
Last summer’s installation offers transmission speeds of 1Gbit/sec., as
will the one coming in 2006. That’s fast enough to support video
applications used in training and psychological counseling, Carragee
said. The distance covered by the optical links ranges from two to
seven city blocks, or as much as a half-mile, he added.
Tratz-Ryan said LightPointe is the largest optical wireless vendor,
with Canon Inc. and Proxim Wireless Corp. as its top competitors.
Despite the potential benefits of optical wireless, Gold said he
doesn’t expect the market to grow in coming years, especially with the
advent of WiMax wireless technology. WiMax promises high-bandwidth
connections over distances of several miles between transceivers, he
By Matt Hamblen – Computerworld (US)