Now, Google is planning to change this by launching a fleet of 180 satellites to provide web access for the 4.8 billion people not yet online, according to sources close to the company.
The California-based giant will spend more than $1 billion (£600 million) on the technology, which will rival Facebook’s efforts to connect remote regions of the world.
Details remain vague, but the Wall Street Journal reports that the satellites will be small and high-capacity, and will orbit the Earth at ‘lower altitudes than traditional satellites.’
Google’s venture is being led by Greg Wyler, founder of satellite-communications start-up O3b Networks, and depending on the network’s final design, the group may double the number of proposed satellites.
Two-thirds of the world still remain without internet access. Google is now planning to change this by launching a fleet of 180 satellites to provide web access for the 4.8 billion people not yet online.
The project is the latest venture from a Silicon Valley to connect the world to the internet in the hopes of boosting revenues.
A separate project by Google, dubbed Project Loon, is designing high-altitude balloons to provide broadband service to remote parts of the world.
Details remain sketchy, but the Wall Street Journal reports that the satellites will be small and high-capacity, and will orbit the Earth at ‘lower altitudes than traditional satellites’.
In April, Google also acquired Titan Aerospace, which is building solar-powered drones (pictured) to provide similar connectivity.
The helium-filled balloons inflate to 49ft (15m) in diameter and carry transmitters that could beam 3G-speed internet to remote regions.
Project Loon was developed in the company’s X Lab by the same team behind Google Glasses and the driverless car.
It is hoped that it could save developing countries the high cost of laying fibre cables to get online and lead to a dramatic increase in internet access for the likes of Africa and south-east Asia.
In April, the company also acquired Titan Aerospace, which is building solar-powered drones to provide similar connectivity.
Facebook, meanwhile, has its own drone plans.
In March, Mark Zuckerberg revealed solar-powered drones, satellites and lasers are all being developed in the firm’s labs to deliver the internet to underdeveloped countries.
He has pledged to work on technology to deliver the internet to ‘the next 3 billion people’ – and revealed the firm has hired experts in solar power that can keep drones flying for months at a time.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s deputy president, Professor William Webb, said: ‘The idea of using aerial platforms to deliver connectivity is one that is many decades old, from low-orbital satellites to balloons and more recently unmanned aerial vehicles.’
Mark Zuckerberg said that drones, satellites and laser are being used in Facebook’s labs to beam the internet to underdeveloped countries.
‘The difficulty has always been one of keeping the aerial platform in the right place in the sky for weeks or months at a low enough cost. As technologies mature we get ever closer to achieving this and Facebook’s intervention in this space is a welcome boost to the area.’
He warned that there are many challenges to overcome before the dream of providing internet access to remote communities via drone can be achieved.
Facebook and Google also need to overcome regulatory hurdles, including coordinating with operators so their fleet doesn’t interfere with other satellites.
‘Top of the list is the need to make the drones cost-effective, reliable and demonstrate to the regulators that they can operate safely in our airspace,’ he added.
‘Many other issues associated with access to radio spectrum, national telecoms regulations and more will also need to be addressed.’
PRIVACY IMPLICATIONS OF USING DRONES FOR INTERNET CONNECTIVITY
Companies such as Facebook and Google have a checkered history with privacy, and many have voiced concerns about how the site could use drones to collect data about people.
In theory, the drones could be used to take aerial images, or collect details about wireless networks and individuals.
As Facebook and Google’s drones will be used to provide internet to people home’s, there will need to be a limited amount of data collection to connect the homes to the network.
With this in mind, they are likely to be subject to strict regulation.
In the U.S, for example, the Federal Aviation Authority’s (FAA) guidelines state private operators are allowed to fly their drones ‘recreationally’ and commercial drones are ‘prohibited.’
However, earlier this year Judge Patrick Geraghty, from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) dismissed a fine, which the FAA had placed on a drone photographer.
Geraghty said Raphael Pirker’s camera drone was ‘not subject to [federal regulation] and enforcement,’ and therefore the fine wasn’t valid.It is unsure exactly what this ruling will mean for companies such as Amazon, and now Facebook, but it could see the restrictions relaxed.
The FAA is appealing. Facebook and Google are also planning to use these drones in areas outside the U.S., and it will depend on the individual country’s laws on unmanned aircraft and surveillance.
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