'Shoebox-sized' satellites may provide free Internet
by Mark Ollig
Surprisingly, there are nearly 4 billion people living on this planet without reliable, high-speed access to the Internet.
Ideas have been proposed and designs tested, for
providing these underserved areas of the world an entrance ramp; if you will,
onto the fast lane of the Internet.
Project Loon is Google’s plan for using a network of
high-altitude balloons (carrying special electronics) for providing Internet to
people living in remote areas of the planet.
People in these areas could be experiencing Internet
unreliability, slow data speeds, or not have access to the Internet.
According to Project Loon, they have just signed
agreements with three mobile operators to begin using their balloon-powered
Internet service over Indonesia this year.
Out of the 250 million people living in Indonesia,
only one in three are connected to the Internet.
How do these balloons provide Internet service to
the folks on the ground?
On the outside of a home or building, a special
Wi-Fi Internet antenna is attached, and communicates with one of the
Each balloon communicates with other nearby
balloons, and forms a network.
One balloon is designated to wirelessly link up with
a ground station having a connection to an ISP (Internet Service Provider).
In 2013, Project Loon launched 30 testing balloons
from New Zealand’s South Island.
One homeowner located within the test area, had
extremely slow Internet service, and was chosen to have the special Wi-Fi
antenna installed on his house.
It was said the homeowner, once having his computer
connected to Project Loon’s Internet network, smiled as the first webpage he
clicked on quickly downloaded.
Aquila is the name of an airborne “flying wing”
which is part of Facebook’s Internet.org project for extending Internet access
to areas of the world with limited, or no Internet access.
The Aquila has a wide wingspan (112 feet), and
weighs less than 1,000 pounds.
It’s a non-piloted, solar-powered, V-shaped aircraft
with four propellers; two on each wing.
Aquila will fly in a circular pattern above
conventional air traffic at an altitude of 90,000 feet during the day, and
60,000 feet at night.
Facebook’s plan calls for an Internet-gateway ground
station to transmit an Internet radio signal to an Aquila “mother aircraft.”
The mother aircraft will then transmit this signal
via a laser beam, to a cluster of other Aquila aircraft flying in the
Ground coverage by each of these circling airborne,
flying wings, will be some 31 square miles.
Each will then deliver Internet access to the
smartdevices and computers on the ground via a Wi-Fi radio signal.
An Aquila aircraft is designed to remain in flight
for three months; after which, it will glide back to Earth, be refurbished, and
“We can’t beam Internet connectivity to people if we
don’t know where communities are, so we built AI (Artificial Intelligence)
technology to analyze 15.6 billion satellite images to create much more
accurate population maps across 21.6 million square kilometers of Earth,” said
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook co-founder and CEO, last week on his Facebook profile
He also said the maps would be shared so other
organizations can use them “with planning energy, health, and transport
infrastructure, as well as assisting people who need help in disasters.”
I recently watched an interesting demonstration
video by SkyFi, who calls itself: “The future of satellite communications
SkyFi wants to use its nano-satellites (about the
size of a shoebox), and its unique, expandable antenna design, to provide free
Wi-Fi Internet access for the entire planet.
Yes, you read that right folks – free Internet
access for the entire planet.
SkyFi states positioning 60 nano-satellites in
Earth-orbit, would allow blanket Internet coverage around the globe.
The engineers with SkyFi have experience working
with nano-satellites, and designing antennas for use in space.
More than 20 patents have been filed by members of
SkyFi, which demonstrates to me their credibility for this project.
I also learned SkyFi recently obtained $3 million in
investment funding from a venture capital firm.
“The advancements in materials, together with
high-end mechanics and algorithms, have enabled us to design an unprecedented
communication system,” said Daniel Rockberger, co-founder and chief operations
officer of SkyFi.
“The high flexibility of our nano-satellites, and
the ability to provide multiple services to different customers, enables us to
offer free Internet access to the whole planet, in the same manner as GPS
(Global Positioning System) services are free,” said Raz Itzhaki Tamir,
co-founder and CEO of SkyFi, in a recent press release.
He added, their nano-satellites will “bridge great
divides” and provide for a “great global connected community.”
SkyFi’s completed satellite network reportedly will
offer the capability of data service speeds of up to 1Gbps (one gigabit per
second) to any location on the Earth.