Satellites, Balloons and Solar-Powered Drones to Cover the World in Internet Access

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Google will spend over a billion dollars investing in internet infrastructure, and plans to purchase 180 satellites that will orbit the earth at lower altitude than traditional satellites, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

The project is led by Greg Wyler, founder of satellite-communications O3b Networks Ltd. O3b was funded by Google in 2010, and currently has 4 satellites in orbit with 4 more set to launch in March.

On Friday, WorldVu Satellites Ltd., which is funded by Google and Wyler, secured radio spectrum rights to launch the satellites for global internet service. The service is expected to launch in 2019, according to filings with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The Geneva-based United Nations affiliate ITU regulates wireless broadcast spectrum and satellite orbits.

WorldVu picks up the Ku-band spectrum, which is also used by telecommunications operators who have priority rights. This could be a challenge for consistent connectivity as it will need to “…incorporate complicated power-flux-density adjustments so that their satellites’ frequencies would not disturb broadcasts from satellites using the same spectrum from higher geostationary orbit,” according to a Spacenews report.

In another effort to create new infrastructure, Google purchased Titan Aerospace earlier this year. Titan designs drones or “atmospheric satellites” which could help create internet access in remote areas. Titan’s flagship products will be the first commercially manufactured long-endurance solar drones that are nearly the size of a commercial jet that can stay aloft for five years running on solar power. According to the WSJ, Google will be use Titan Aerospace’s expertise to contribute to Project Loon, a balloon-based Internet delivery project.

Project Loon uses special balloons that float in the stratosphere and rise or fall into layers of wind blowing in the direction they need to travel. People connect to the balloon internet technology by using a special antenna receiver attached to a building.

According to the site, “each balloon can provide connectivity to a ground area about 40 km in diameter at speeds comparable to 3G. For balloon-to-balloon and balloon-to-ground communications, the balloons use antennas equipped with specialized radio frequency technology.”

Wall Street Journal reported that Google CEO Larry Page mused about spanning the globe with Internet access delivered by Project Loon. “I think we can build a world-wide mesh of these balloons that can cover the whole planet,” he said, noting that they are cheaper and faster to launch than satellites.

Multiple companies with interest in supporting internet infrastructure are making investments in providing access to remote and underserved areas through new technology. In August 2013, Facebook announced, an initiative to bring internet access to the entire globe.

In March, it announced The Connectivity Lab at Facebook along with the purchase of Ascenta, an aerospace company. The Ascenta team is exploring multiple technologies to accomplish the goal of providing new global infrastructure through drone, satellite and laser technology.

Susan Irwin, president of Irwin Communications Inc. told the Wall Street Journal, “Google and Facebook are trying to figure out ways of reaching populations that thus far have been unreachable, wired connectivity only goes so far and wireless cellular networks reach small areas. Satellites can gain much broader access.”

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