Outernet Joins The Space Race For Internet Accessibility

14 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A single Project Loon balloon can now float for six months, blanket an area the size of Rhode Island.

Titan Aerospace, the drone-maker acquired last year by Google to help realize the project, recently applied for and received two licenses from the U.S. The space race to launch satellites providing internet coverage to the roughly 4 billion people living in unconnected or nominally connected communities around the world is no longer just the purview of billionaire moguls and the world’s biggest Internet companies.A new report on the digital newspaper publishing industry has predicted a steady increase in the global production of digital titles, with an expected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.52% worldwide by 2019.Almost two years after Project Loon was first unveiled, Google’s plan to provide Internet access to the world with floating balloons is coming along nicely.

Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) ambitious ‘Project Loon’ derived from the hot-air balloon-type of carrier used to provide last-mile internet connectivity to remote regions has now matured to deliver 4G LTE for periods closer to six months.Google has provided an update on Project Loon, its forward-thinking venture to blanket underserved parts of the globe with Internet access using an array of airborne balloons. Outernet, a small, independently-funded media company with a unique vision for distributing Internet content like a radio broadcast, is partnering with the UK Space Agency, and Scottish satellite equipment manufacturer, Clyde Space, on a cost-sharing project for manufacturing “cubesats.” The information broadcaster Outernet will launch their three new nanosatellites at the beginning of 2016, says Outernet’s chief operating officer, Thane Richard. That may not seem like an impressive number in markets where 100% to even 300% growth is more typical, but there are a lot of factors that have to come into play for this type of increase to happen internationally. According to Ars Technica, each balloon can now supply a Rhode Island-sized region with 4G Internet, and can stay afloat for more than six months at a time.

A Google Inc statement noted that the 2013 launched ‘Project Loon’ had now grown to be full-blown ‘cell tower in the sky’ capable of servicing areas as large as Rhode Island. The licenses, which are valid from March 8 until September 5, don’t give away much because Google has asked the FCC to keep many of the details confidential for commercial reasons, but they reveal the tests will take place inside a 1,345 square kilometer (520 square mile) area to the east of Albuquerque. As per the claims made public by Google, any of its balloons, say ‘Project Loon’ can stay in the air as long as six months and provide 4G LTE services in the entire state continuously.

Each balloon basically acts as a satellite, picking up Internet signals from the closest cell tower and then beaming it to the ground or to other Project Loon balloons. Therein lies a catch-22 as well; what’s the point in developing a sturdy, affordable device if there’s no power grid to charge it and no internet connection to run it? Google is working with Vodafone in New Zealand, Telstra in Australia and Telefonica in Latin America to deliver Internet over LTE networks to handsets on the ground. That means lower costs for Outernet’s target markets, which are already at the bottom of the economic food chain, since Outernet can use more commodity parts to make its receivers.

The drone tests, called “Project Titan,” are envisaged to work alongside the balloons to deliver connectivity to areas that need additional capacity, such as those hit by a natural disaster. Environmental impact is another arena getting more and more attention, and digital newspapers first offer no carbon footprint in terms of necessary paper, ink, and production utilities, but also require no overland trucking to deliver them. Even though any official announcement of the launch of ‘Project Loon’ has not yet been made by Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL), but still it has started testing its services.

Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) choose to use its Project Loon more as a bridging technology to allow local internet service providers to run their cellular networks. We don’t expect the service to arrive here in the U.S. anytime soon, though it could definitely help clear up some of the dead spots that carriers just can’t seem to reach in rural parts of America. In dealings with the FCC, Titan describes itself as specializing in “developing solar and electric unmanned aerial systems for a variety of uses (e.g., broadband access in remote areas, environmental monitoring).” In previous communications with the Federal Aviation Administration, prior to its acquisition by Google, it said its aircraft could, in addition to telecoms, provide “surveillance services to public, private and government organizations.” Launched in late January 2014 as the first project incubated by the Media Development Investment Fund, Outernet envisions a different kind of access to information than the ubiquitous internet connectivity Facebook and Google are working towards with Internet.org and Project Loon. “Outernet is the modern version of shortwave radio,” said founder Syed Karim at the time of the company’s launch. “As the world moves towards a global knowledge-driven economy, more than 3 billion people are excluded by cost, geography or jurisdiction. Improved education access and literacy rates are also expected to cause a greater demand for newspapers as citizens have the capability to read the news and take an active role in the coverage.

Thanks to the rapid progression of mobile technology and the fact that many living in developing nations use or will use a smartphone as their primary (and perhaps first) computer, beaming signal to mobile devices is now not only possible but preferred. Outernet will increase opportunities for everyone to access digital news and information, allowing greater access to opportunity and education than anything that currently exists.” The company has financed its growth primarily through the MDIF and an Indiegogo campaign, which has raised over $500,000, basically as sales for the company’s first product — a receiver called the Lantern. Finally, library access is gaining more attention than ever before, with as many as 95% of survey respondents citing that libraries are vital to the health and strength of communities; in an interesting aside, the same Pew Internet study that uncovered that response found that only 54% of the survey takers had been to a library in the previous year. As Google officially comment, Telco’s which have a tower in a city, can use the loon balloon to cover the whole region, without additional infrastructure expansions, making the tie-up profitable.

Those digital files are then stored on Lantern’s internal drive and can be accessed with any WiFi enabled device that connects to the gadget’s Wi-Fi hotspot. Citizens with the economic means to provide their own content still strongly support the existence of libraries for those who cannot otherwise access computers, books, or other library services.

Outernet’s content is curated and filtered by a series of editors, but anyone, anywhere in the world can request that certain information be distributed by the service. This emphasis on maintaining libraries comes alongside the introduction of digital lending provided by companies like OverDrive, Pressreader, and Zinio, which allow patrons to access ebooks, digital newspapers, and digital magazines without having to physically enter the library. While giving an interview to Ars, Johan Mathe, Software Engineer, Google, stated that for many countries, getting one-hour internet per day is a huge challenge. Asian content distribution will happen within the next three months, according to Richard. “The goal is to have global coverage of 10 gigs per day by the end of the year, and we’re on track to hit that goal,” he says.

CNES has long been involved in upper-atmospheric balloon launches (perhaps since the days of Jules Verne?) , and was encouraged by the progress that Google had shown in its initial deployments in rural New Zealand. The company’s vision to connect everyone to the Internet using an armada of upper atmospheric balloons harnessed with routers that can provide internet coverage for an area the size of Rhode Island is set to be a really big business.

If those people pay just a small portion of their monthly income, say $5 a piece, “you’re going to be in a billion dollars a month in revenue, tens of billions a year in revenue. So it’s good business, too.” The strides that Google is making with Loon to pull away from the connectivity pack are being matched by Facebook’s own efforts around Internet.org. Unlike the Loon hardware, which is focused on connectivity, Zuckerberg and Facebook are emphasizing the roles that carriers have to play in promoting and increasing access.

While it’s kind of sexy to talk about satellites [lasers, and other high-tech ways to distribute an Internet connection], the real work happens here”, referring to Mobile World Congress itself. The service is more akin to the next wave of radio, rather than the interactivity of an online browsing experience, except it distributes much more than just sound. In countries where access to certain information is restricted and authoritarian regimes dominate, having a service that provides access to useful information but doesn’t track who is accessing the information, what information they’re consuming, and where they’re consuming it can be a virtue.

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