Students and staff at Central New Mexico Community’s College’s main campus will soon be accessing wireless internet at speeds 100 times faster than available on today’s networks.
The new service comes courtesy of Albuquerque startup OptiPulse Inc., which has developed optics technology that uses proprietary, high-power laser chips to beam wireless data across a new type of network for urban and rural areas at 10 gigabits per second. That allows for direct download and upload by end users at up to 1 GBPS, or about 100-fold faster than the typical 10 megabit-per-second speeds provided by most cell towers today.
OptiPulse plans to deploy its first laser-based micro-network in a pilot project on two buildings at CNM’s main campus by late September or early October, said Kyle Lee, CEO for CNM Ingenuity, a nonprofit that manages all of CNM’s commercial activities.
It will provide wireless service at up to 1 GBPS for all smartphones and devices operating in the covered area, which will stretch from CNM’s JS Building, at Coal and Buena Vista SE, where the college’s nursing program is housed, to the Student Resource Center about 500 feet south of there.
“This will be the first 10-G wireless network on a college campus that we know of in the U.S.,” Lee said. “It will allow anyone in that area to upload and download at 1 gigabit per second. That’s unheard-of speed.”
The promise of OptiPulse’s wireless technology – which could offer a plug-and-play alternative for high-speed internet at potentially half the cost of fiber optics or expensive cell towers – encouraged CNM Ingenuity and other local investors to pump $2.5 million into the company. The University of New Mexico, about 12 individual investors, and local telecom companies Sacred Wind Communications and Plateau all contributed capital.
That investment allowed OptiPulse, which began building its technology in 2015, to further develop the system into the company’s first deployable prototype, said OptiPulse founder, President and Chief Operating Officer John Joseph, a longtime optics engineering whiz and former Sandia National Laboratories scientist.
“We’ll finish assembling and testing the latest prototype to get it onto to CNM’s buildings in the next few weeks,” Joseph said. “It will be a pilot project for CNM students. We’ll collect testimonials from them about how it worked.”
Joseph is the architect behind OptiPulse’s proprietary laser chips. The technology is built on a “vertical cavity surface emitting laser,” or Vixel array platform that allows engineers to grow crystals directly on a semiconductor wafer. The crystals are arranged in ways to produce minuscule cavities wth mirrors on the sides.
As electricity flows through the cavities, it’s converted into photons and phonons, meaning the electric current creates light each time it pulses through the cavities. That resonates within the cavity to push a powerful circuit of energy out of a small spot.
OptiPulse harnesses those laser pulses to create a high-power light source at very low cost. It uses multiple chips with hundreds of lasers on each one to simultaneously beam wireless data from one transceiver to another.
The company plans to mount arrays of transceivers, or nodes, throughout cities or communities to beam high-speed internet service back and forth. Any end user who wants to can then hook into the network.
OptiPulse has been testing the system in a 25-meter beam-line room installed in space that the company leased from CNM at an off-campus building at Coal and I-25 SE. Its first prototype had a transceiver at one end and a receiver at the other.
“We made the second prototype into a duplex unit that both sends and receives data,” Joseph said. “We’ve since optimized that for a higher-power, more-stable beam that’s now assembled into a full duplex unit with plug-and-play potential to provide a fiber-like, industry-standard connection. That’s what we’ll be deploying at CNM.”
The CNM network will have two nodes, one on the JS Building and the other on the Student Resource Center.
“The wireless system now operating at CNM will hook up a few hundred students simultaneously to our network,” Joseph said. “Our technology works with all legacy systems, but we’re now building our own last mile, curb-to-home connection that we hope will eventually replace the use of radio frequency entirely.”
The company expects to begin commercially selling the system next year, said OptiPulse CEO Mathis Shinnick.
“We believe we’ll be pre-selling units by mid-2019,” Shinnick said. “We’ll take orders and deliver the physical product by mid-2020.”
Before that happens, OptiPulse will likely set up more pilot projects with its two telecom investors, Sacred Wind and Plateau.
“We plan to first use it on our headquarters complex as a test lab to gain real world experience before deploying it in our service territory,” said Vince Tyson, chief operating officer for Plateau, which serves about 25,000 customers in northeastern New Mexico.
Sacred Wind President and CEO John Badal said OptiPulse’s technology could make much faster internet available for many more people at an affordable price for the rural communities his company serves, especially on the Navajo Nation.
“We’re looking at conducting a trial or pilot project with OptiPulse by the end of the year at some point in our rural territory,” Badal said.
For CNM, apart from deploying OptiPulse networks on its campuses, the college hopes to place students in internships with the company. Eventually, when OptiPulse builds a local manufacturing facility for its hardware, it could provide jobs for CNM graduates, said Kyle Lee.
“They’re growing an economic-based company here that could become a very large player in the telecommunications industry,” Lee said. “That could provide a lot of local workplace opportunities. Their technology is also very applicable in rural New Mexico, which offers a rare opportunity for economic development that we want to be a part of.”