Google Balloons or Facebook drones?: The internet age is all ready to dawn upon over 4 Billion unconnected people around the world. Who will it be who reigns the skies first?
If giant blurs of balloons and drones popping out of the sky seem to liken a scene straight out of the latest Star War movie then the awakening force here is most likely the internet technology as envisioned by some at Google and Facebook. The goal is simple and easily fathomable in India – Google’s Project Loon will launch balloons in the sky to help reach out rural and unconnected areas!
As much as it sounds like a liberating idea to connect people without internet connectivity, Project Loon’s idea of delivering wireless internet services to world’s remote regions faces some hurdles in India. After signing deals in Sri Lanka and China, Loon needs to look up some regulatory setbacks in the country first, as indicated by comments from India’s top telecom government officials.
All the balloons under Project Loon will float in the stratosphere, approximately 20 km above the Earth’s surface. The project uses high-altitude balloons placed in the earth’s stratosphere (defined as the layer of earth’s atmosphere above the troposphere that extends to about 50 km above the earth’s surface (the lower boundary of the mesosphere)) at a height of over 18 km to establish a wireless network claiming to have up to 4G-LTE (4G is mobile communication standards which will enable users of the LTE network to use data speeds that are up to 10 times faster than the present day 3G network) speeds.
What these balloons will essentially do is provide Internet to people by partnering with telecommunication companies by sharing their cellular spectrum, which will allow people to connect to the balloon network using their phones and LTE-enabled devices like mobile phones etc..
Google also has some cool projects on board such as the Railwire which is a mega project to equip 500 railway stations across India using a Wi-Fi network. Coming back to Loon balloons—how will these Internet balloons help rural India? Sundar Pichai says that Google plans to reach 300,000 villages, or about 50% of the total villages in India.
On the other hand, Facebook is planning to start testing its drones in the US with India and 21 other countries throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America to follow. These drones are likely to stay in the sky delivering Internet to the world beneath, and it is speculated that these drones will be roughly the size of a commercial aircraft, similar to 747″. Sounds like easy access to Internet technology headed the world’s way at a very low price!
While both Facebook and Google are battling it out to become the first company to bring Internet connectivity to remote locations in the world, the larger picture is likely to work for masses who are to benefit from free / low priced internet access.
In this context, I wonder if India is gearing up to utilize this opportunity and alleviate rural folks by initiating programs that will support technology, education and awareness?
Share your thoughts with me.
Sanjay Puri has been working on Indian-American issues and facilitating stronger US-India relations through USINPAC (US India Political Action Committee and AUSIB (Alliance for US India Business), two bipartisan organizations that he chairs.