Optical wireless refers to the combined use of two technologies - conventional radio-frequency (RF) wireless and optical fiber - for telecommunication. Long-range links are provided by optical fiber (also known as fiber optic cables), and links from the long-range end-points to end users are accomplished by RF wireless. Sometimes the local links are provided by laser systems, also known as free-space optics (FSO), rather than by RF wireless.
A major problem facing the developers of fiber optic communications systems is the fact that it is expensive to provide each end user with a separate fiber optic line. While this has been done for large corporations in a few geographic regions, the fiber-to-the-home ideal remains impractical. But RF wireless at ultra-high frequencies (UHF) and microwave frequencies can carry broadband signals to individual computers at substantial data speeds, and the cost is reasonable.
A typical optical wireless system would bring fiber optics into a town, where one or more hubs are set up with transponders that convert optical signals to and from RF wireless signals. It would be easy to add new subcribers to any hub by means of multiplexing. Subscribers would be equipped with individual RF wireless modems, and able to move around anywhere within the zone of coverage, making portable, as well as fixed system, operation, practical.
Optimistic engineers predict that, with the deployment of optical wireless on a large scale, data speeds of 100 gigabits per second (100 Gbps) will someday be enjoyed by many small companies and home subscribers.