By B.L. Ochman
Balloons and drones will deliver universal Internet access
Dueling announcements were made by Google and Facebook this week about their respective missions to provide universal connectivity to the two thirds of the world’s population that does not have Internet access.
Google’s Project Loon announced that it has signed a deal to make Sri Lanka the first country with universal connectivity – using balloons that travel at the edge of space.
Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook’s Internet.org has developed and tested solar powered drones that use lasers to beam down internet connectivity.
How Project Loon Works
Google’s Project Loon website, notes that its network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, are designed not only to connect people in rural and remote areas, but also to bring people back online after disasters.
The lofty goal of Loon: “to finally make all of the world’s information accessible to all of the world’s people.” And that would allow “everyone to create new opportunities for everyone.”
News, photos and video updates are also presented on the Project Loon Google+ page, which has more than 1.5 million followers.
Loon Balloons float twice as high as planes and weather
Project Loon balloons float in the stratosphere, twice as high as airplanes and the weather. In the stratosphere, Google explains, there are many layers of wind, and each layer of wind varies in direction and speed. Loon balloons go where they’re needed by rising or descending into a layer of wind blowing in the desired direction of travel.
Signals are transmitted from the balloons to a specialized Internet antenna mounted to the side of a home or workplace, or directly to LTE-enabled devices. Web traffic that travels through the balloon network is ultimately relayed to Google’s local telecommunications partners’ ground stations, where it connects to pre-existing Internet infrastructure.
Loon began with a test in New Zealand, California and Northeast Brazil, and will expand based on those results.
The Loon website says the goal of its current phase it “establishing a ring of uninterrupted connectivity at latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, so that pilot testers in these latitudes can receive continuous service via balloon-powered Internet.”
Google brings free wifi and cellphone charging to New York City
As if Project Loon wasn’t cool enough, Matt Payton reported in Metro.UK, Google also is bringing free wifi for New York City beginning this fall as part of a trial the company hopes will eventually span across the whole of the world.
This daunting task will be accomplished by turning the Big Apple’s idle old phone booths into ad-supported ‘Wi-Fi pylons’, where you’ll also be able to charge your phone, make free domestic phone calls and get city and transit directions on a touch screen!
The Mission of Facebook’s Internet.org
On Thursday, July 30, Mark Zuckerberg announced a news update on Facebook’s mission to expand connectivity, saying:
“I’m excited to announce we’ve completed construction of our first full scale aircraft, Aquila, as part of our Internet.org effort. “Internet.org is a Facebook-led initiative bringing together technology leaders, nonprofits and local communities to connect the two thirds of the world that doesn’t have internet access”
“Making the internet available to every person on earth is a goal too large and too important for any one company, group or government to solve alone. Everyone participating in Internet.org has come together to meet this challenge because they believe in the power of a connected world.”
Companies working on the project with Facebook include Samsung, Ericsson, Nokia, MediaTek and Opera Software
10 times faster than any other system
Aquila is a solar powered unmanned plane that beams down internet connectivity from the sky. It has the wingspan of a Boeing 737, but weighs less than a car and can stay in the air for months at a time.
Zuckerberg continued, “We’ve also made a breakthrough in laser communications technology. We’ve successfully tested a new laser that can transmit data at 10 gigabits per second. That’s ten times faster than any previous system, and it can accurately connect with a point the size of a than 10 miles away.”
This week marks the one-year anniversary of the introduction of the Internet.org app in its first country, Zambia. Over the past 12 months Facebook has worked closely with more than a dozen mobile operators across 17 countries to give people access to relevant basic internet services without data charges, and today Internet.org is available to more than a billion people, Zuckerberg said.
Two absolutely unique titans of the Internet, one begun in a garage and the other in a dorm room, will soon change the world.
Eat that, Time Warner, Comcast, et al.