Google's "Skynet": blimps, balloons deliver Internet to remote, underdeveloped areas

By on May 28, 2013, 4:30 PM

Bringing a new but literal meaning to the term "Skynet", Google hopes to connect remote and underdeveloped areas of Africa and South East Asia to the web through a network of high-altitude blimps and balloons. The undertaking will be part of Google's broader plan to bring greater connectivity to the globe's emerging markets.

Atmospheric "base stations" floating at high altitudes have the capacity to deliver signals over large swaths of terrain -- possibly dozens or even hundreds of square miles per station. Deploying a web of airborne devices would serve to increase coverage and create an armada of redundant Internet transmitters and receivers.

If Google is looking toward the sky for Internet delivery though, why not use satellites? Internet-equipped dirigibles offer a potential host of possible benefits over satellites, namely being far cheaper to deploy and offering superior latencies (i.e. better performance).

One issue Google faces though is getting Wi-Fi signals from air to ground in a coherent, end-user friendly form. If you've ever set up a 2.4GHz (or 5GHz) Wi-Fi network at home, you have likely developed an intuition for Wi-Fi's disappointing limits in terms of distance and penetration. Google's floating network would likely be miles above the surface of the Earth; so transmitting and receiving Wi-Fi signals would require prohibitively powerful and sensitive equipment on the ground. 

As a result, Google has been lobbying for permission to utilize commercial airwaves below Wi-Fi frequencies. The search giant has been particularly interested in the sizeable white space (unused portion of spectrum) typically assigned to television broadcasters. These lower frequencies can be used to transmit network data across dozens of miles while simultaneously providing better penetration through objects, clouds and inclement weather. When coupled with compatible land-based transceivers, residents could use Google's airborne network as easily as watching TV or using a cell phone.

Trials have been underway in a number of locations, including South Africa. One member of the Cape Town project said Google's efforts to deliver Internet access to educational facilities have "gone really, really well."




User Comments: 13

Got something to say? Post a comment
Guest said:

Maybe they can put one of those up in Wisconsin, so we can get high speed access too.

There are actually some areas that have high speed, but the way the telecoms and cable companies split up the area leaves a lot of people without high speed access.

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

That is one clever idea!

Guest said:

Scotland could use few of them too .....

1 person liked this | Fbarnett Fbarnett said:

I can see the Cable companies shooting those down!!!!!!!!

Skidmarksdeluxe Skidmarksdeluxe said:

I can see the Cable companies shooting those down!!!!!!!!

Yeah. with their bi-planes as in World War 1.

Skidmarksdeluxe Skidmarksdeluxe said:

I'm for it. Being a South African myself, I've seen rural communities that haven't even heard of the internet yet let alone used it.

TorturedChaos, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

I read about a similar setup using an ultralight planr or glider, but that was years ago. Glad to see another approach to it

Guest said:

The unplugged ones must be plugged in. No more red pills or blue pills there is just one pill and you must swallow it or else.

Guest said:

Why does Africa need all these crazy, backwards projects to get them Internet access? It's not a backwards region because it doesn't have the technical know-how or resources, it's backwards because of corruption. You give the people what they need to make a decent Internet infrastructure, leaving the corrupt politicians and customs officials out of the loop, and they can do it themselves. Stop these crazy projects and help fight against those holding so much of the continent back.

SNGX1275 SNGX1275, TS Forces Special, said:

Maybe they can put one of those up in Wisconsin, so we can get high speed access too.

There are actually some areas that have high speed, but the way the telecoms and cable companies split up the area leaves a lot of people without high speed access.

Indeed, there are lots of rural areas of Missouri that could use this too.

Guest said:

Why does Africa need all these crazy, backwards projects to get them Internet access? It's not a backwards region because it doesn't have the technical know-how or resources, it's backwards because of corruption. You give the people what they need to make a decent Internet infrastructure, leaving the corrupt politicians and customs officials out of the loop, and they can do it themselves. Stop these crazy projects and help fight against those holding so much of the continent back.

Karen Ellis Karen Ellis said:

We are in the middle of a technology revolution. It can be an overwhelming proposition but one that cannot be ignored. Two things I would say are going to become the backbone of ALL EVENTS (note: I say ALL NOT just digital technology events). Those two things being, managed secure ACCESSIBLE Internet Connectivity, and Dedicated Bandwidth.

Load all comments...

Add New Comment

TechSpot Members
Login or sign up for free,
it takes about 30 seconds.
You may also...
Get complete access to the TechSpot community. Join thousands of technology enthusiasts that contribute and share knowledge in our forum. Get a private inbox, upload your own photo gallery and more.