internet from space

Drones, Balloons, And Satellites Are The Future Of Internet Connection

Companies are looking to the sky for solutions that will make the Internet more globally accessible. Here’s how.

As we’ve discussed before, globally (and even nationally), Internet coverage is spotty at best. But advancing technology now has the potential to expand Internet provision to a higher vantage point to deliver web access via balloon, drone, and satellite.

Here’s the projects currently underway that exemplify missions that could impact the future of Internet connectivity.

Google’s Project Loon

googleloon
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Google’s work to provide Internet coverage for all comes in the form of balloons, hence its appropriate name.

But these balloons aren’t your typical party accessory, and lack in whimsy what they make up in functionality: floating in the stratosphere twice as high as any airplane, the balloons are controlled to rise and descend through layers of wind to connect with signal bouncing from earth-bound antennas, skywards and back.

The project, which began in June of 2013 for experimentation in New Zealand, is currently being improved, tested, and researched in California’s Central Valley. The pilot will continue with the goal of establishing a ring of connectivity around the planet.

Facebook’s Connectivity Labs & Internet.org

With about one in seven people on the planet using Facebook, but only one in three having Internet access, it makes sense that the social media company is pushing the envelope in terms of reach and ability.

Where Google is opting for balloons, however, Facebook is taking a slightly different direction. In late March, the site announced its “Connectivity Labs” efforts to connect the world from the sky with satellites, drones and lasers.

Facebook’s work is a part of larger initiative called Internet.org, for which they partnered last August with Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, Mediatech, Opera Software, and Qualcomm.

Specifically, Facebook hopes to use solar-powered drones by Ascenta to beam down Internet connections from different altitudes and platforms depending on population density.

The Outernet Project

cubesaouternet
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

While Google and Facebook are both working toward the seemingly humanitarian goal of Internet for all, they’re likely to have their agendas and incentives for profit – for example, SingularityHub suggests that people might be obliged to sign up for Facebook accounts to access the Internet they provide.

Though the Outernet Project has a similar objective, aiming to fill in connectivity gaps for people all over the world, it differs in that their hope is for its information to be unrestricted, private, and free – like “BitTorrent from space,” the website says.

How? Outernet wants to build and launch a constellation of low-cost, miniature satellites which would receive content through a network of ground stations, uplinking content based on the community’s needs and requests.

Doing so would ensure an extensive range and delivery of news, education, entertainment, and communication, without cost or surveillance.

By Outernet’s timeline, satellite prototypes will be developed in July of 2014, with a test launch the following January and a hopeful first deployment in June of 2015.

Originally published on April 14, 2014. 

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
Jennifer Markert