Internet Giants Facebook and Google plan to beam internet through Skies

The Internet is one of the most important inventions ever done by humanity. You can connect with somebody who might be on another side of the planet. This feels amazing, right? Well, not for everybody. Not everybody on this planet has internet access.

According to ITU (Internet Telecommunications Union), worldwide only 3.5 billion people use internet access, which means 46% (3.5 out of 7.6 billion). This is a shame for the notion of a globalized world.

A person who doesn’t use the internet doesn’t mean that he/she doesn’t have access to the internet. But, many people really don’t have access to the internet. This is mostly the case with the least developed countries, and with countries/territories which are physically isolated (islands for example).

If you know the basics of the internet, then you would know that it is an interconnection of Autonomous Systems. If you don’t know, then check this out. Now, you also know that transmission media is an integral part of the internet. Most parts of the world is connected to the internet through submarine cables. Areas which are not connected via submarine cables can access the internet by using satellites. But, internet access using satellites is expensive and often very slow. This hinders their wide adoption.

Information Technology giants Facebook and Google want to solve this problem. Most of the people who use the internet, already use their services in some form or another. If they want to grow further, they have to invest in people who don’t have internet access. This is the only way they can increase their user base. They plan to do exactly that.

Facebook and Google both want to beam internet from the skies to places where there is no internet access. Theses multinational giants have market capitalizations more than the GDP of most countries in the world. This gives them the resources they need to implement these massive projects.

Although their end goal is the same, they go by different means. While Facebook is developing a fleet of solar-powered electric drones, Google is developing a fleet of high altitude balloons.

What is Facebook doing?

Infograph on Facebook's Aquila drone

Infographics on Facebook’s Aquila drone, Sorce: Facebook

Facebook is developing a solar-powered electric drone named Aquila. It has a wingspan bigger than that of a Boeing 737 airplane (737’s wingspan is 36m). But, it weighs less than 1000 pounds (453 pounds). It will fly at an altitude of 60,000 to 90,000 feet at speeds below 80 mph (132 km/hr). It does all this while using only 5,000 watts of electrical power. Low power consumption is a necessity as the drone flies on battery power at night. According to Facebook, each drone could remain in the air for up to 90 days. Each drone will have a communication diameter of 60 miles (96 km), which will give coverage area of over 7000 square kilometers. Facebook plans that a fleet of drones networked together will provide internet access to remote areas.

What is Google doing?

A photo from the Google Loon launch event of June 2013. Source: Wikipedia

A photo from the Google Loon launch event of June 2013. Source: Wikipedia

Whilst the basic idea is the same, connecting unconnected people to the internet. But, Google is taking a radically different approach, instead of drones, it plans to launch a network of balloons which will move in the stratosphere. High-speed internet is transmitted up to the nearest balloon from Google’s telecommunications partner on the ground, and then back down to users on the ground. According to Google, they have successfully tested data transmissions between balloons over 100 Kms apart, beaming internet directly to users on their LTE phone with speeds up to 10 Mbps.

Connecting far-flung areas with the internet is a great thing to do. Google has already deployed its balloons for regaining connectivity in Puerto Rico, which was devastated by hurricanes this year.

These technologies were only a dream a few years ago, and now they are somewhat maturing. Let’s hope that it brings good for the disadvantaged.

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