Google balloons the idea of internet connectivity to 4.8bn unconnected
In 2011, Google laid down an ambitious plan of Gigabyte Internet through fibre and has been increasing the pilot areas for this project. In 2012, they edged it to reality by laying down Google Fiber in Kansas city. Google’s intent towards higher data through puts is quite clear – Google’s business interests are directly impacted by the number of hours, terminals, locations, instances people would spend on the internet. So instead of depending on operator led networks which are still constrained at 100mbps or less, Google with its inexhaustible resources decided to go ahead and invest on data pipes to users by itself.
I tend to believe that Google is also testing the hypothesis that the more interactions that people have on the internet- the greater avenues it provides Google to monetize i.e Delta increase in terms of internet interactions would lead to multiple-delta opportunities for Google to monetize the traffic.
Corollary to this effort, is the effort to provide internet to as many users in developing states and 3rd world countries (Read Asia and Africa). Google’s business prospects are directly related to the number of Internet users. Hence taking the internet to 4.8 bn masses is an immediate opportunity and goal that Google seems to be driving forward to. Towards this, Google is executing a pilot in New Zealand called the Project Loon – also called as Google Balloon with an eye to provide affordable Internet access in remote and rural parts. The plan is to have several balloons floating around the earth at an altitude of 20 km, or twice the height at which commercial aircraft fly, and beaming connectivity to areas that are not served by traditional copper or fibre optic networks. Special equipment that can be fixed on the roofs will communicate with the balloon, acting as the link enabling the user to communicate with the balloon.
The 15-m-wide balloons are made up of super pressure polyethylene plastic and can stay in the air for 100 days. Each balloon carries a payload of electronics including a flight computer, altitude control system, communications antenna and a solar power station — turning the craft into a self-powering cell tower in the sky. The Loon balloons are strategically positioned on stratospheric winds and controlled by complex algorithms and computing power on the ground. Google believes that a ring of balloons can provide Internet access to a whole range of places that are really difficult to get to with normal technology. The company claims that connection speeds will be comparable to typical 3G access provided by cellular networks. Ground stations about 60 miles apart would bounce Internet signals up to the balloons. The signals would hop backward from one balloon to the next to keep people continuously connected. Solar panels attached to the inflatables would generate electricity to power the Internet circuit boards, radios and antennas, as well as the onboard flight-control equipment. Each balloon would provide Internet service for an area twice the size of New York City, or about 780 square miles, and because of its high altitude, rugged terrain is not a problem.
Why don’t they just use satellite technology? There just isn’t enough satellite spectrum to go around for everybody in the world to do high-speed Internet via satellite, And for high data rates, one would need large antennae on the ground. Other limitations include cost, available launch vehicles and orbital slots in an increasingly crowded low-Earth orbit.
This isn’t the first time high altitude balloons have been deployed. The EU’s CAPANINA project successfully delivered wireless broadband from the stratosphere, reports National Geographic.
Every technology has an associated cost curve and scale which are the deciding factors to the spread and penetration of the technology. Currently, such costs associated with Project Loon would be significantly high> Google needs to up the scale for such an initiative. The good thing for Google is that while the scale and complexity of the idea is mind-boggling but it seems plausible, and Google is probably the only company with the resources to pull it off. And then there are others, willing to back some of this effort – Governments for instance!
Often an unconventional thought is key to a conventional problem… it remains to be seen how Google makes this concept come to reality…