Cabling the world to spread internet access is an expensive and time-consuming process, especially when taking to the skies for wireless coverage is far easier. That’s why the two tech giants Google and Facebook are all heading towards the skies to setup systems that should cover the globe in internet connectivity. Source
Until recently it’s been both Facebook and Google taking all the headlines for pioneering bringing internet coverage to all areas of the globe. Now Elon Musk has confirmed that his SpaceX company will sending be satellites into space to create an internet offering of its own.
So in this modern space race who’s doing what and how will it affect us down here on the surface?
One of the first examples of providing internet to areas of the world that are otherwise disconnected was Google’s Project Loon, setup in June 2013. Source
As the name alludes Google uses air balloons to beam the internet down to rural and remote locations. The project uses high-altitude balloons placed in the stratosphere at an altitude of about 18 km (11 mi) to create an aerial wireless network with up to 4G-LTE speeds.
The balloons are maneuvered by adjusting their altitude in the stratosphere to float to a wind layer after identifying the wind layer with the desired speed and direction using wind data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Users of the service connect to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna attached to their building.
The signal travels through the balloon network from balloon to balloon, then to a ground-based station connected to an Internet service provider (ISP), then onto the global Internet. Google claimed that for two out of three people in the world, access to a fast, reliable internet connection doesn’t exist and its Project Loon would change that.
Google can keep balloons in the air for 75 days. One balloon, called Ibis 152, has been in the air for over 100 days, while another balloon, called Ibis 162, circled the globe three times before it finally descended. The Loon team has also bolstered balloon internet speeds utilising LTE and providing 22 MB/sec to ground antennas and 5 MB/sec to handsets.
Google has since bought drone company Titan Aerospace with apparent plans to offer internet access beamed down from drone planes that stay up in the sky for 5 years at a time. But Google may end up using the drones for mapping and imagery mainly as it’s reportedly working on satellites too.
Google satellites, according to The Wall Street Journal, will number 180 and cost up to $3 billion. The plan should be to replace the balloons with the drones and then have satellites compliment that by offering broader coverage in less demanding areas as drones deliver high-capacity service in smaller areas.
Free Basics / Internet.org is a partnership between social networking services company Facebook and six companies (Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Opera Software, Nokia and Qualcomm) that plans to bring affordable access to selected Internet services to less developed countries by increasing efficiency, and facilitating the development of new business models around the provision of Internet access. Source
Zuckerberg set up Free Basics / Internet.org recently which uses mobile phone networks to provide basic internet services to those without online access. 85 per cent of the world has access to cellular coverage but only 30 percent of those have internet.
This is just the first step though as Facebook is reportedly working on drones that will stay in the sky delivering internet to the world below. Yael Maguire, the engineering director at Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, admitted during an interview the drones will be unmanned jets “roughly the size of a commercial aircraft, like a 747”. They should be able to fly for years on their own without needing to come back to the surface.
Facebook plans to start testing its drones next year in the US with India and 21 other countries throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America to follow. Drones have already been tested over the UK.
Facebook also wanted to buy Titan Aerospace but was beaten to it by Google. But that hasn’t stopped Mark Zuckerberg and his company from plowing ahead.
It has been criticized for violating net neutrality, and by handpicking internet services that are included, for discriminating against companies not in the list, including Facebook’s rivals. An Indian journalist, in his reply to Mark Zuckerberg’s article defending Internet.org in India, criticized Internet.org as “being just a Facebook proxy targeting India’s poor” as it provides restricted Internet access to Reliance Telecom’s subscribers in India.
Until April 2015, Internet.org users could access (for free) only a few websites, and Facebook’s role as gatekeeper in determining what websites were in that list was criticised for violating net neutrality. In May 2015, Facebook announced that the Internet.org Platform would be opened to websites that met its criteria.
Internet.org was launched on August 20, 2013. In September, The Application delivering these services was renamed Free Basics.
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