Some of the biggest players in the tech industry have been quietly developing initiatives aimed at connecting everyone around the world to the internet. Examples like Google’s Project Loon, Facebook’s Internet.org and newcomer Outernet have all made tremendous strides over the last year. Which one will come out on top? Since each one has taken a different approach, the answer may be all three.
Google’s initiative involves deploying high altitude balloons to serve as signal relays for traditional telecomm customers who reside in remote areas where reception is limited or non-existent. People will be able to connect to their LTE networks no matter where they are thanks to these floating cell towers. Since the technology is meant to integrate with existing data platforms, the Loon Project probably has the best chance at early adoption. However, there are some challenges with their approach. The biggest one is the susceptibility of the Loons to the weather, more specifically air currents pushing them out of position. In response to this vulnerability, Google has also begun developing the Titan platform, which utilizes autonomous drones to complement the Loons. The drones will be more maneuverable and reliable, but they haven’t yet achieve the longevity of the Loons as far as the length of time they can remain up in the sky.
Most people know Facebook for its social platform, but few would peg the tech juggernaut as a player in the data connectivity game. Celebrating its one year anniversary, the Internet.org project is happy to prove the critics wrong. Rather than expanding the reach of existing telecomm providers, the initiative is attempting to eliminate the financial barriers to accessing the internet in areas that already have coverage. In other words, they are attempting to establish a basic, free portal to vital information, like health, employment and local news, to those who can’t afford it. As you might have guessed, the free access is limited regarding the sites you can view through it, but it’s a tremendous step towards connecting the masses who are in regions stricken with significant poverty.
A relative newcomer to the game, Outernet has developed a satellite platform that enables users to view the internet simply by purchasing a receiver. Using datacasting and User Datagram Protocol through various satellites, users with a receiver called a lantern can connect to a data stream of up to 100GB of content per day for free. However, the communication is only one way, so you can view but not post anything into the stream unless you upload your content through their network. In order to fund the free access, the cost of the platform is shifted to the providers of the content if they want to prioritize their media in the stream. Net-neutrality pundits have criticized both Outernet and Internet.org for tampering with the type and availability of the content they provide access to. However, as the co-founder and CEO aptly stated in an interview with Wired, “a one-way, non-neutral network like Outernet is better than nothing for the billions of people who don’t yet have a full internet connection.”
Despite their varying approaches, one thing is clear. The world is getting smaller by the minute and we are sure to see more innovations along the lines of global connectivity in the years to come. With the momentum of technologies like 3d printing and the open source movement, there may even come a time when communication and the sharing of ideas will be declared a basic human right and provided at no cost to anyone.