3RD WORLD INTERNET
Facebook and Google to bring internet access to the farthest corners of the world.
Announced in late 2013, Internet.org, a Facebook initiative set itself the ambitious goal of connecting five billion people from developing and third world countries to the Internet. Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, believes the way to achieve this is through unmanned, high altitude drones. In March, Facebook paid US$20 million to buy U.K.-based drone manufacturer, Ascenta, adding its team of engineers and researchers to Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, which already boasts some of the world’s top aerospace and communications engineers, many recruited from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Ames Research Center. The Ascenta founders previously developed an early version of Zephyr, the world’s longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft, and Facebook’s drone is likely to be very similar to the Zephyr drone.
Google thinks the answer to the third world Internet problem is through balloons - although it may also be hedging its bets with a drone-based approach, having recently purchased Titan Aerospace, a drone manufacturer for an undisclosed sum. Google’s Project Loon, which has been in beta testing since 2011, will eventually use up to 70,000 weather balloons orbiting in the upper stratosphere to beam web access down to special receivers on the ground. While Google’s balloons are more fragile than Facebook’s drones, and are more subject to adverse weather conditions that can cause them to stray off course, or even crash altogether, the balloons are also much cheaper to produce, costing a few hundred dollars, rather than the few million dollars each drone costs. In June 2013, Project Loon completed a successful pilot test, when thirty balloons beamed Internet access to remote areas of New Zealand’s South Island.