Bringing internet access to the remotest parts of the world is one great challenge that has captured the imagination of some of the world’s top technology behemoths.
Which is understandable. They won’t have much to go on by way of market growth if over four billion people, or more than half of the world’s population, are still unconnected.
But it’s not just revenue and profit that they’re after. Being visionaries, the brilliant minds who founded these companies are also thinking about their role in human progress, about the power of the internet to bring changes into the lives of individuals and communities.
Google’s Larry Page, for example, has his Project Loon, which aims to develop a network of giant balloons with internet-beaming antennas that travel in the stratosphere and take advantage of the wind directions to provide internet access to remote regions and those isolated by natural and man-made calamities.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, is moving in the opposite direction. He believes that the best way is to develop simpler smartphones, which are not only affordable but also in line with the technology available in far-flung, impoverished villages.
Instead of high-altitude balloons, Richard Branson, founder of the space technology firm Virgin Galactic, is thinking of satellites. Last week he revealed a collaboration with Qualcomm to create the largest-ever constellation of internet-beaming satellites, by investing in a company called OneWeb, CBC News reports.
OneWeb aims to create a network of 648 satellites, weighing only about 285 pounds each, that would be put into orbit 750 miles above the Earth.
Meanwhile, Elon Musk, founder of Space Exploration Technologies or Space X, also plans to send a fleet of micro-satellites into space to expand internet access on Earth. Eventually, with those satellites, internet service could be extended to Mars.
Musk has just opened a new SpaceX office in Seattle where employees are expected to work on the project, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Under the plan, hundreds of these tiny satellites will be orbiting about 1,200 kilometers above the Earth. That’s far closer to the planet than most traditional communications satellites which travel about 36,000 kilometers above the Earth. That means the SpaceX satellites will make communications faster.
Google seems interested in Musk’s plan. Technology news website The Information says Google wants to invest about US$1 billion in the satellite internet project.
The overall plan is to develop “a system that will stretch all the way to Mars, where [Musk] plans to set up a colony in the coming decades”, says Bloomberg Businessweek.
All of these bold propositions seem out of this world at the moment. But most of the great inventions start out that way, don’t they?
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