In this day and age, it’s hard to imagine life without Internet. It helps you do everything–if you’re wondering how your friend is doing in her new city, all you have to do is shoot her a message. If you’re wondering how many planet Earths can fit in the sun, all you have to do is talk into your phone, and it will get you the answer.
The Internet connects people with just that: connectivity. It’s become a daily part of our lives; even reading this would be impossible without the Internet.
However, over half of the world’s population doesn’t have access to Internet–about 57%, to be exact–because of unavailability in poor or rural areas. The United Nations–who previously stated that they’re going to get that number down to only 50% by 2020–admits that that’s not going to happen.
“In many of the world’s poorest countries, where broadband could potentially have the greatest benefit in terms of bridging gaps, even basic broadband service remains prohibitively expensive,” states the United Nations.
There’s also the fact that many of the rural areas don’t have hard-wire delivery systems like landlines and towers.
But some people are looking past these hurtles; connectivity is important. Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg even thinks that global connectivity through Internet access could end extreme poverty. That’s why companies such as Google, Facebook, SpaceX and others plan to beam the Internet from the sky.
One of these companies, aptly named OneWeb–led by Greg Wyler and supported by Virgin Galactic businessman Richard Branson–plans to release over 600 small satellites into the atmosphere to beam Internet down to Earth. The satellites–equipped for beaming high-speed Internet–will orbit Earth at only 750 miles above, which is a lot closer than current Internet satellites (some of which orbit from 22,000 miles away). The project, which could dramatically close the gap in wealth worldwide, is going to cost an estimated $1.5 to $2 billion.
A company that is already serving the International Space Station, SpaceX, plans to 4,000 disposable satellites into orbit–which would also orbit at a short distance of 750 miles. SpaceX CEO and PayPal co-founder Elon Musk said that the “long-term potential of it is pretty great,” and that the “communications technology will be substantially more advanced” than already existing Internet projects. Google and Fidelity have provided $1 billion to fund the project, and testing of the technology is set to begin in 2016.
Google has a project in the works called Project Loon–which consists of solar powered balloons that would beam down Internet signals to workplaces, homes, ground stations, or personal devices. These solar powered balloons would float above commercial airplanes–at about 60,000 to 9,000 feet in the air–all over the globe, and each balloon would be in the air for about 100 days at a time.
Google is estimating that each balloon will cost tens of thousands of dollars, which, regardless of the initial shock of the number, is a lot cheaper than communication satellites that are already in orbit. Google’s already testing these balloons.
Since Mark Zuckerberg is all about connecting people across the globe, it comes as no surprise that Facebook is also working on a similar project with a similar vision: Aquila. Aquila is an unmanned, Internet-broadcasting airplane already built by Facebook, covered in solar cells and sporting a wingspan of 140 feet.
Lead engineer Andy Cox says that it’s designed to fly for three months at a time at an altitude of about 60,000 feet. The plane will use lasers to provide high-speed Internet to a 50-mile radius below. “Over the coming months, we will test these systems in the real world and continue refining them so we can turn their promise into a reality,” says Mark Zuckerberg, who hasn’t yet released a budget on Project Aquila.