Before the advent of the internet, the world was stranger to its own regimes as people across the borders and oceans were disconnected from each other. Over the course of a single generation, the picture has radically changed and today Facebook, Twitter, Google, Snapchat, Instagram or other tech giants has made the world seem small, which couldn’t have been possible without the rapid proliferation of the internet.
It is hard to believe that even in 2015, about 57 percent of the world is still deprived of internet facility. Mostly developing countries and their population living in the outskirts constitute this proportion, but even in some major cities in countries like India, Indonesia and Pakistan, are improvising with slow internet speeds, as pointed out by Facebook’s 2G experiment.
The UN is planning to propagate the internet to the reach 75% of the world by 2020, but this mission requires decisive measures on the part of enterprises that rule the world. Even the UN has now recognized that this goal is not going to be easy, that’s where major tech titans like Google, Facebook, SpaceX and OneWeb step in. Of course, part of the bargain is to their own advantage, but it does serve the purpose.
Let’s have a look at what is in barracks of these titanic enterprises and what solutions are they planning to bring out to the world.
OneWeb: Communication Satellites
OneWeb‘s idea of ‘webbing’ the world is also the most prolific and challenging. The company plans to send 648 micro-satellites into the Earth’s orbit which will throw high-speed internet back to the land. These small satellites will form a space network of internet hubs 750 miles above the sea level, in comparison, the current internet providing satellites are launched as far as 22,000 miles.
This shortening of distance will not only reduce the cost of the launching process but also enable a faster exchange of radio signals and thus faster internet. Moreover, these satellites will completely encapsulate the Earth so that the people living in the remotest parts of the world will be able to access the internet, even if they are on Everest.
However, satellites will not interlink with consumer’s devices directly, instead they will relay signals to low-cost user’s terminals which will in turn radiate LTE, 3G and Wi-Fi to the surrounding place. The advantage of these terminals is that they can be easily deployed and unlike other methods which depend on cellular towers, satellites cannot be disrupted in the state of a natural disaster.
The fountainhead of the project is Greg Whyler who is in it together with major investors like the multi-billionaire founder of Virgin Group, Richard Branson and Dr. Paul E. Jacobs who is Executive Chairman of Qualcomm Incorporated. Apart from these gentlemen, Thomas Enders (CEO/Airbus Group) and Sunil Bharti Mittal (Founder and Chairman of Bharti Enterprises) are also on the board of directors.
The best thing about OneWeb’s space internet project is that it would be literally everywhere, affordable and faster. According to CNN, the project budget is initially set to $1.5-$2B and the service is expected to go online by 2019. OneWeb is making sure nothing falls out of the line, including the schedule, for which they have teamed up with Arianespace so that the satellites are launched in a timely manner.
SpaceX: Communication Satellites
SpaceX closely outlines objective of OneWeb, in fact, their methodology has stunning similarities… the only difference is numbers. The enterprise, which is already serving the International Space Station, is planning on deploying 4000 disposable satellites into our orbit viz nearly 6 times more satellites than its rival company’s figures. Again, the altitude will be 750 miles from the Earth to ensure their speedy communication.
The mastermind behind the idea of SpaceX’s satellite internet is Elon Musk. You could read more about why Musk is one man army, but we will give it to you in a nutshell: PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX, Hyperloop, and SolarCity. Yes, these are all his doings, his promising leadership and mission impossible ideology have made him one of the most nuclear billionaires of our times.
The best thing about SpaceX is the greater number of satellites, which translates into greater coverage with more reliably. Rest of the properties relates to what we have already talked about in OneWeb’s vision, but SpaceX clearly beats OneWeb by 3352 satellites.
The space internet project by SpaceX took great momentum when in January Google and Fidelity made a $1 billion investment in the project, which is expected to begin testing in 2016.
Alphabet: Google X Project Loon’s balloons
Alphabet has barred Google from extra responsibilities like that posed by moonshot experiments of Google X, which now acts under the parenthood of the grand company that recently purchased a 26-alphabet long domain to secure its alias. Project Loon is aiming to launch floating helium balloons in the atmosphere (or more precisely, the stratosphere), in order to blanket the Earth in an airborne network of the hotspots.
The so-called ‘floating internet towers’ would transmit Internet signals to ground stations, homes, workplaces or directly to personal devices. The Project Loon’s balloons will float at the heights of 60,000-90,000 feet, which is way above the commercial airlines while each balloon will operate for about 100 days at a time.
Google X’s floating balloons is so far the most cost-efficient solution to the global internet crisis. However, the low cost shouldn’t be misinterpreted as compromise on quality, because these balloons would not be ordinary balloons that burst out atmospheric stress. The sheets of the balloons are composed of tough materials that allows them to withstand harsh weather conditions.
Moreover, the balloons would coordinate with each other in an intelligent network, meaning that they would not float randomly but sensitive electronic equipment installed on them will guide their course and keep them equidistant from each other. By the virtue of their solar-power gadgets and navigation system, they will passively use air currently for locomotion, but with liberty to choose the direction.
The best thing about Google X Loon project is that the cost is substantially low compared to communication satellites. Project loon has already been deployed as Alphabet sanctioned to send 20,000 helium balloons in the Indonesian airspace to provide the country with low-cost internet solution. Indonesia is more like a testing phase; Google soon plans to deploy the floating internet towers all around the world.
Facebook: Giant Aquila Drones
Facebook’s approach to internet problem is rather adventurous, who instead of employing satellites or balloons is building giant drones for the purpose. Furthermore, the system will not use radio waves for communication but powerful laser beams to convey high-speed internet to an area of a 50-mile radius on the ground.
Each drone would have a wingspan of 140 feet, which is about the same when comparing to huge Boeing 737 commercial airliners. While Loon’s balloons have the stamina of a month, Aquila can dauntlessly fly for three months at a time at the altitudes of 60,000 feet (let’s hope it does not mess with Google’s helium balloons).
Aquila is actually named after a constellation in the northern sky (Latin = eagle: A bird who carried Zeus/Jupiter’s thunderbolts in Greco-Roman mythology). The leading role is, of course, played by Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg while Andy Cox is serving as a lead engineer on the project. Facebook has already built the first successful Aquila drone, but no deadline has been set for the project. The details about the amount of investment has not been revealed.
For SpaceX, funding is going to be a major problem given that it is also waging for the most expensive venture. Even for a low-cost satellite, when multiplied by 4000, should yield a huge sum of money and currently only Google and Fidelity have shown increased interest so far.
Moreover, even the communication satellites sent as far out as 22,000 miles in space are not spared from the fear of colliding with each other or with other space debris. So at considerably lower heights of 750 miles, both SpaceX and OneWeb could be miscalculating the figures and possibly may end up in a catastrophic experiment. Moreover, these satellites could also interfere with communication of higher satellites.
Facebook has not given us a deadline. The idea of sending service through laser beams as intriguing it is—is also very challenging. According to Zuckerberg, the team of engineers continues to refine its efficiency but he does not clarify when will it happen. Likewise, Project Loon is an equally untested platform and the world has yet to see absolute success from the Indonesian undertaking.
For the sake of discussion, let’s say that these projects become successful, but in doing so, the tech giants will be preying on the businesses of global and domestic communication companies, which will, in time, raise insecurities. Indonesian companies like Indosat, Telkomsel and XL Axiata already did, and though, Google could come to terms with them but what about the rest of the world?
We may be blind to the absolute future but we do know two things about these moonshot internet projects by the global tech giants. First off, all of these missions are yet to drink the cup of success. Secondly, we are sure that they are not going to stop until they have achieved their goals.
As mentioned aforetime, the Alphabet, Facebook, OneWeb, and SpaceX are going to gain great profit from these projects. Have they not already? But to you and me, that has already changed the way we look at the world. If all of these missions become successful, the internet will become cheaper, faster and more possibilities will be unlocked.