There was an article interesting that described an effort by NASA to replace radio-based space communications by .... The article went on to describes how NASA will be demonstrating a long-haul optical network by connecting California and Hawaii with a laser communication link (illustration from NASA). The technique is called a free-space optical connection--as opposed to within a fiber--the first demonstration will show that long-haul lasers can communicate with pulses of light at 100M bps.
According to NASA, laser communications can not only provide significantly higher data rates but have lower mass, size and power consumption than the radio based approach. The project could also allow real-time data streaming from instruments that today must store-and-forward files, like spectral analysis and synthetic aperture radar (SAR). The mission, which is just one of three technology demonstration missions, will take four years to achieve and is slated to be finished in 2016.
Laser-speeded communications will allow them to use tele-presence to safely investigate nearby objects as well as manipulate remotely controlled vehicles. Naturally, there will still be the speed of light problem that would add additional latency caused by the distances involved.
Businesses have used satellites for communications for a long time and most are familiar with the “speed of light problem” and are familiar with the types of data transfers where this is not an issue (e.g., large FTPs…). For activities that desire low latency (those using interactive small packet sizes like voice and interactive video conferencing), this satellite based approach will still not be a useful solution. For the purposes of this demonstration, weather is also likely to be of some concern, unless there are multiple locations spread far enough apart to overcome most weather situations.