Friday, 3 October 2014

Google and Facebook Competing for Aerial Internet Dominance

The Internet is certainly a wild frontier on many levels, including how the world's Internet service providers (ISP) offer connectivity to customers however even we are sometimes amazed at what lengths some players will go to in order to dominate an industry.  Such is the case with Google and Facebook; two cutting-edge technology companies now competing for aerial Internet dominance.

What do we mean by 'aerial Internet dominance'?  We are referring to the ongoing competition between Facebook and Google to provide Internet service to billions of people who do not currently have it.  Rather than building a traditional infrastructure of cables and wires though, the two companies are looking into drones and balloons respectively.

Google seems to be way ahead of Facebook at this point.  Google X's Astro Teller told the EmTech conference in Cambridge last week that his company's work on providing Internet access through high-altitude balloons is making good progress.  Google originally announced the project a little more than a year ago.  Known as Project Loon, it is an endeavour that aims to use specially designed balloons that float in the stratosphere.

The balloons are equipped with sophisticated software that is able to alter altitude in order to put the carriers into the appropriate wind patterns.  The balloons would broadcast signals to be received by special antennae mounted on rooftops.  Though Google has yet to make any money from the project, they have not hesitated to invest a considerable amount, including billions of dollars for new satellites.  Teller maintains that the investment is well worth it if his company is eventually able to provide Internet service to over 5 billion people.

Meanwhile, Facebook is working on its own drone-based technology for remote Internet service.  Rather than working with high-altitude balloons however, it is focusing its energies on drones.  It seems to be behind Google's efforts for two reasons:  First, it did not establish its Connectivity Lab until earlier this year.  Second, it has a lot more challenges to overcome.

Facebook's Yael Maguire says the Connectivity Lab must overcome both hardware and regulatory hurdles.  Where hardware is concerned, Facebook is working with drones roughly the same size as commercial airliners yet it has to create machines with the on-board solar and battery technology to keep them aloft for extended periods.  Where regulation is concerned, there are no rules or guidelines for the use of drones at the altitudes Facebook is looking at.  That says nothing of the signals that will be travelling between the drones and land-based receivers.

Who will win the race to aerial Internet dominance?  Only time will tell.  Google says it is ready to begin the testing phase of Project Loon in the very near future.  Facebook says it will not be ready for testing for another two to five years.  Meanwhile, billions of people who do not know what unfettered Internet access is like are waiting with bated breath….  Perhaps someone should start coming up with a strategy to provide them with computers too…

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