The Race to Deliver Internet From Space
We are on the verge of yet another space race, decades after the United States and USSR raced to the moon — the race to bring the Internet to the estimated 4.4 billion people living without access to the “world wide” web. This time arround, it is a battle between tech-behemoths: Facebook, Google and SpaceX.
Facebook is on a quest to get the whole world online: “Internet.org”. “Over the past year , our work in the Philippines and Paraguay alone has doubled the number of people using mobile data with the operators we’ve partnered with, helping 3 million new people access the internet,” Zuckerberg worte on his Facebook Page. The next step is far more ambitious: The company’s Connectivity Lab has been working with Samsung and Nokia, as well as Nasa to deliver Internet from space with a combination of solar powered drones, satellites and lasers. A Facebook engineer explains:
In addition, Facebook purchased British Drone manufacturer Ascenta back in 2014. Ascenta built the longest flying on solar-powered plane to date, which could fly at an altitude of 20.000 meters (12.500 miles), an ironically very calm altitude and “above” the weather for several months. The details on how Facebook will make this work are still scarce
“What happens when the rest of us get access? It doesn’t get twice as good, it gets a bazillion times as good. Imagine for the first time, humanity firing on all cylinders.”
This is were things get interesting: Making sure Google is not left out, the search giant purchased Titan Aerospace for a reported 60 million, just after reports about Facebook’s interest in the company surfaced.
Google made headlines when it posted ballon expert job offerigs on their website in 2011. Soon, the company had to lift its’ cover: citizens in New Zealand spotted a strange Balloon, and soon the Media picked up the story. After two years of developement Google X Labs officially finally announced their plans to bring High Speed Internet to the masses: Project Loon will use solar-powered helium-filled balloons with LTE antennas to “beam” Internet from the verge of space.
Similar to Google Fiber, Google is trying to disrupt the traditional connectivity model. Apparently, Project Loon is getting very close to a reality: After successful tests in New Zealand, Australia and beamingteh Internet to a school in Brazil, Google is currently focusing on improving the flight time of their balloons. Still, it has proven that the concept is possible to implement.
“Google is obsessed with fixing the world’s broadband problem” — Steven Levy for Wired
As we have seen in the past: Once a Google X Lab project picks up, it is hard to stop. Project Loon lead Mike Cassidy has all the details:
Elon Musk doesn’t have enough going on, right? Tesla, SpaceX, Solar City and Hyperloop? Apparently, Musk wants to build a second Internet in space and one day use it to connect his very own Mars penthouse to the Web. The plan: Around 700 satellites in the form of a cube would hover at around 750 miles (1200 km) above the earth, significantly lower than traditional satellites at around 22000 miles. This low altitude would allow for speedier Internet service that the competition from above. In theory, the speed would rival fiber optics cable on land.
“Our focus is on creating a global communications system that would be larger than anything that has been talked about to date” Elon Musk
Elon Musk’s project is probably the one we have the least amount of information about as of today, and “People should not expect this to be active sooner than five years,” he said. It’ll be expensive: Around $10 billion to build, he says. “But we see it as a long-term revenue source for SpaceX to be able to fund a city on Mars.” You impressed us all over again, Elon. Musk has a unique advantage: he already has a way to launch the satellites. SpaceX has been making headlines lately for their partnership with Boeing and NASA, as well as their successful missions to the ISS.
All of these concepts sound very compelling, but we are only at the beginning of the race. If history taught us anything, competition only speeds up adoption, especially in technology.
Originally published at techsational.com on April 23, 2015.