Balloons, and Satellites, and Drones, Oh My! The Internet’s New Horizons
Google's Project Loon pilot balloon floating over southern New Zealand

Balloons, and Satellites, and Drones, Oh My! The Internet’s New Horizons

The internet of today will not be the internet of tomorrow.

As the future of a free-flowing internet is up for debate in Congress, the verdict from private industry is clear: more internet for more people equals more opportunity. Three titans of industry are hoping to expand the boundaries of the internet, making it available to more than 4 billion people who currently lack internet access across the globe.

spacex logoRecently the internet began to trend on a tweet from billionaire idea-man Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX. The tweet seemed to confirm a rumor that Musk is planning to launch a 700-micro-satellite network, or constellation, into space. In a follow-up tweet, he mentioned that this network could provide “unfettered,” “low-cost” internet access to billions across the planet. The micro-satellite constellation is only in the early stages of development and little is know of what, exactly, it might mean. Rumors stipulate that the fleet might comprise nearly 700 satellites—10x larger then any currently in orbit—and that each satellite would be a fraction of the size of any current communication satellite. An announcement with more details is expected in the coming months.

Elon Musk is not a lone pioneer in this brave, new world.

This December, Google will launch the next phase of its pilot program for Project Loon in Queensland, Australia. The proposal is to float a series of solar-powered, high-altitude balloons into the stratosphere to create an aerial wireless network that could be accessed by anyone with the proper antenna and who was within a certain radius of a balloon.

Loon Internet

Source: Project Loon
www.google.com/loon

The idea is to provide internet access to remote and rural areas where access is logistically or geographically restricted. It could also allow immediate internet access to disaster areas where ground infrastructure has been damaged.

Google has been in the testing phase for the least year, with pilot programs introduced in New Zealand, California, and Northeast Brazil. The initial launch is expected to span the globe around the southern hemisphere’s 40th parallel.

An additional fleet of “small, high-capacity” satellites are also rumored to be a part of Google’s blueprint global internet access.

Yet another internet juggernaut is getting into the ring. Facebook has announced ambitious plans to bring the internet into developing areas via solar-powered drones, satellites, and lasers. Internet mogul Mark Zuckerberg has teamed up with Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Samsung, and Qualcomm  for Internet.org, a collaborative effort to bring the entire planet under the umbrella of internet access.

At low-population densities a network of satellites would connect users to the internet. At higher population densities, such as suburbs and urban environments, Facebook proposes to launch a series of solar-powered aircraft into the stratosphere—roughly 20km—that could beam the internet down to the masses. The satellites and the internet drones would be able to transmit data via free-space optical communications (FSO), or laser technology, creating a vast global network of connectivity.

The internet frontier is wide open, waiting for the right ideas to push the borders further and further out into the unknown. All three of these projects are expected to be well underway within the next few years and the horizons of the near future might look quite different from the horizon of today.

Posted by Zimmerman

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