Google may be planning to use blimps, balloons and other “high-altitude platforms” over developing markets in Africa and Asia to provide wireless Internet access to areas that are currently not well served.
Reports by the Wall Street Journal and online news outlets suggest the Internet giant is considering a range of technologies, including blimps, balloons, satellites and terrestrial wireless networks to help get the next billion people online.
High-altitude platforms, or Haps, can be manned or unmanned aircraft, balloons or blimps that operate between 17km and 22km above the earth where there is usually little wind and turbulence. At this altitude, they’re also higher than commercial flights but lower than satellites, meaning lower latency times — the time it takes data to make a round trip — and less energy consumption.
Haps can be used to provide wireless broadband over hundreds of square kilometres. The International Telecommunication Union has allocated spectrum in the 48GHz band worldwide, and in the 28GHz and 31GHz bands for selected countries, for providing Haps services.
Google, or anyone else wanting to provide broadband using Haps, would still have to liaise with regulators in each of the countries covered to ensure compliance with local spectrum regulations and avoid causing interference for existing spectrum users.
“Getting more people online has been a longstanding goal of Google’s,” says the company’s South African spokesman, Julie Taylor. “It has been working on that in South Africa, and Africa, and will continue to do so.” Taylor says she can’t comment on when or if Africans should expect to see Google blimps in the sky.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Google is “deep into a multipronged effort to build and help run wireless networks in emerging markets as part of a plan to connect a billion or more new people to the Internet”.
According to the report, the company has begun talking to regulators in countries such as South Africa and Kenya about using portions of radio frequency spectrum usually reserved for analogue broadcasting television to provide Internet connectivity, particularly to outlying and underserviced areas where the low-frequency, high-propagation signals are more effective and cost efficient than those used in dense urban areas.
Google is already involved in a so-called television “white spaces” spectrum trial in Cape Town, where it is using the unused portions of broadcasting spectrum to offer broadband connectivity to 10 schools in the area.
Microsoft, meanwhile, is planning to run its own white-spaces trial in Limpopo province, South Africa, and in Kenya’s Nanyuki region. Google and Microsoft have even partnered with one another to host a conference on white spaces in Dakar, Senegal on Thursday and Friday this week.
The Wall Street Journal’s report suggests that Google’s moves to connect more users would also allow it to “circumvent incumbent cable companies and wireless carriers”. In the US and Europe, the company has encountered opposition from some network operators that argue Google benefits unduly on the back of existing networks.
In the US, Google has even begun deploying its own fibre-optic networks in cities like Kansas, with plans to do likewise in states like Texas and Utah. It has also spoken about rolling out public wireless networks in various US cities to help get more consumers online. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media
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