The Information Superhighway extends its network
Apart from the huge mesh of undersea fiber-optic cables, Projects Starlink, Kuiper & Loon will bring Internet inclusivity for all
I still remember the good old days of 14.4K modem connectivity when it would take a few minutes to connect to your Internet Service Provider (ISP) with all that squeaky sound of your modem trying to establish a connection. And then we would stare at the computer as the web page would attempt to load.
We have come a long way from those early days. Within three decades we have moved from that snail speed access to blazing broadband connections offering anywhere from 100–1000 Mbps. These kinds of speeds are only possible on fiber-optic lines, which have much higher capacity than the copper wires used for telephone lines.
These super-fast transfer speeds have been enabled by the fiber-optic infrastructure that has been put in place across the World. Whereas a simple text page took forever to load a couple of decades ago, you can load an online portal full of graphics, videos & other animations in mere seconds now.
The term fiber-optics was coined by the Indian-born American Physicist Narinder Singh Kapany, whose work on the behavior of light led to the creation of fiber optics. Kapany is also known as the “Father of Fiber Optics” due to his extraordinary work in the field. The innovation went through a transformation phase in the 1960s & 70s before lower-cost manufacturing & effective design improvements led to them becoming a feasible mode of data transfer without signal loss.
Fibre Optic Submarine Cables
It was not long after that the first fiber-optic cable was laid across the floor of the Atlantic ocean in 1988 (retired in 2002) connecting western Europe with North America. The project was undertaken by the three telecom giants — AT&T, France Télécom, and British Telecom. The new line data connection enabled 40,000 telephone channels — a 10x increase over its predecessor TAT-7.
Once the premier cable was laid successfully, this led to many more cables being laid down on the ocean floors connecting different countries & continents of the world. By end of the 20th century, every populated continent on Earth was connected by undersea fiber optic cables.
Internet, as we see it today, started to take shape (video above). The start of the new Millenium saw an explosion in undersea cable development as Internet access became widespread across the World. Eight new cables were laid down in 2001 alone between Europe & North America. While 100 new cables were laid between 2016–2020.
The status of Internet connectivity is such right now that even the remote Polynesian islands in South Pacific are connected via undersea Fiber-optic cables. These projects are usually funded by a cash-rich consortium of telecom companies or governments, but more recently the big tech companies are making their presence known in the space as well.
Amazon, Microsoft & Google which are major Cloud storage providers of the World right now own 63,605 miles of submarine cable. With the ever-increasing demand for data storage & transfer, the rate of cable construction is not slowing down.
While these cables have a life span & the more aging ones are taken offline, they can still be put to other useful work like transforming into a seismic network to help researchers study offshore earthquakes. Apart from investing in undersea fiber optic cable, tech companies are also undertaking other endeavors to provide internet access to people living in far-off areas.
Project Loon (Google)
The spin-off from the parent company Alphabet, Project Loon was launched in 2011 to bring internet connectivity to remote parts of the World. The floating solar-powered balloons are intended to work in far-flung areas where the cellular towers are too expensive to build. Loon is also planning to launch commercial trials in Kenya pending regulatory approval.
Loon also demonstrated the ability of its solar-powered balloons to provide wireless connectivity in disaster-stricken areas of Peru and Puerto Rico earlier this year. Building on this relationship further, Project Loon has now announced use its high-altitude balloons to connect rural communities in Peru to the internet. After several test-runs, this would be the first actual attempt to provide permanent internet access to rural communities.
According to the new agreement between the open-access infrastructure operator with Internet Para Todos Perú (IpT) & Loon team 6 million rural Peruvians will get connectivity by 2021. Loon will deploy its balloons to provide 4G/LTE service beginning in 2020, in the country’s Loreto region. Google is also planning to build its third international, under-sea internet cable dubbed “Equiano,” which is going to be partially operational by 2021.
Project Starlink (SpaceX)
The aerospace company of Elon Musk SpaceX launched the first batch of satellites earlier in summer for the company’s Starlink project — an endeavor to provide broadband internet service to the global population by beaming it from the satellites positioned in the low-Earth orbit (LEO).
The ultimate goal is to have 12,000 satellites in the orbit, which would be communicating with each other via lasers and will deliver 40 times faster internet that current satellite service by employing Ku/Ka-band broadband.
Project Kuiper (Blue Origin)
How can you keep the e-commerce giant out of anything? Amazon has also joined the race to provide broadband internet access around the globe. The endeavor will be similar to Starlink where low-orbit satellites would be employed to provide internet.
According to the documents filed with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) & Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the project consists of 3,236 satellites in 98 orbital planes, at altitudes ranging between 366 and 391 miles (590 and 630 kilometers).
The first of the five phases include the deployment of 578 satellites. However, the filings did not mention the design of the satellites or the date when they will be launched but it is expected Amazon’s space venture Blue Origin would most probably take on the job.
The emerging tech like smartphones has made the world a 24/7 connected place. All these endeavors will go a long way in making sure that people in remote regions have access to this essential service.