The world is slated to be a little more connected after the country of Sri Lanka signed an agreement with Google aimed at providing internet coverage for the entire country.
The project was initially started in 2013 by a sector of Google known as Google X. Since then, they have overcome many practical and engineering hurdles in order to bring blanket coverage WiFi to some of the 4 billion people (about half of the world’s population) who have no access to internet.
I’ll save you the trouble of searching for the location of Sri Lanka- it’s a small island nation off the coast of India.
The project- named after either a mental institution patient, a North American aquatic bird akin to geese and ducks, or just short for balloon- has its first official project in Sri Lanka. Project leader Nick Cassidy headed to Sri Lanka and signed a deal with the government. An unofficial timeline puts the first launch date sometime in March of 2016 with the eventual goal of covering the entire country.
So how are they doing this you might ask? By way of balloon of course. Project Loon uses solar powered balloons that can remain airborne for up to 180 days. While in flight they can connect an area up to the size of Rhode Island– 5,000 square kilometers.When fully inflated the balloons are 15 meters (50 Feet) wide and 12 meters (40 feet) tall.
The balloons connect such a wide area because they are able to float in the Stratosphere just under 60,000 feet in the air. For control, Google uses the wind instead of fighting it. They have fans that pump air into and out of the helium balloon to alter its altitude and put it in the path of different jet streams. After flying about 10,000 kilometers they are then able to land the balloon within 500 meters (or less than a third of a mile) of a target zone.
Using balloons is much more cost effective than using drones to deliver internet as Facebook and SpaceX has proposed. Also, the project doesn’t seem to have the pesky problem of which part of the internet to deliver as does Facebook’s internet.org.
Other Projects Aimed at Connecting the World
Project Loon and Google aren’t the only players trying to connect the other half of the world to the internet. Facebook launched it’s internet.org project about a year ago and is now in 17 different countries- several being in Africa where only 10% of the population has access to the internet. The countries include: Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Colombia, Ghana, India, Philippines, Guatemala, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malawi, Pakistan,Senegal, Bolivia, South Africa.
The project was plagued with net neutrality concerns because of it’s business practices. They were working with the mobile carriers that Facebook had selected in order to determine what websites would be included on the free internet.org app. Thus by giving free access to only selected websites Facebook was creating an unequal internet- and essentially had the final say in what sites were accessible.
This changed, however, in May with an announcement that Facebook would open up development and allow any developer access to services through internet.org. This, of course, is not without guidelines.
And here again, as I say often, they are a company and profit is king: one of the guidelines is that the app must inspire users to go beyond the free services of internet.org. That is to say, become paid users.
Another lesser-known project is Outernet‘s Lighthouse project. This innovative plan uses their geostationary satellites (meaning they are stationary in relation to a point on the ground) in order to provide free digital information anywhere on Earth. Outernet’s goal is to provide “humanity’s public library” to refugee camps, remote hospitals, and low-resource schools
Unfortunately, this is limited. The system only allows up to 100GB of data per day and the communication is only one-way. Meaning that information can only be received, or downloaded. But this is more than enough for locations where the government has a stranglehold and limits the internet, or in places where internet is not available at all.
The lottery of where you are born, and therefore what information you have the rights to access, will eventually be cancelled out by Outernet
-Outernet Chief Operating Officer Thane Richard
The $100 units begin shipping in early August and are aimed at providing access to sites like Project Gutenberg (the oldest digital library) and Wikipedia, as well as providing crop price information for remote farmers. After downloading the information the devices can also be used as a hub and deliver the downloaded content to connected devices. Plus, the device itself is open source, and if you build one yourself then you can pick up their broadcasts.
However, in order to pay for the free service Outernet must sell something. In the past it worked with a dutch news agency, RNW to pay for the delivery of news to Syrian refugee camps. And it has already worked with UNICEF on a proof of concept to deliver their Twitter feed.
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