May 27, 2013
Wi-Fi For Africa May Include Google Blimps And High-Altitude Balloons
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
No, it´s not April first; Google may be planning to outfit several blimps and high-altitude balloons with wireless networks and fly them over Wi-Fi-less areas in Africa and Asia.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the search and ad sales giant is looking to bring the Internet to these emerging markets, signing on around a billion more people to the World Wide Web. Google has yet to comment on these plans, but according to people familiar with the matter, these high-flying networks would spend their days floating over areas outside of major cities where Internet access is either scarce or simply nonexistent. These floating access points could even be used in urban areas to boost speeds on congested networks. An unnamed source also told the Journal that Google isn´t counting on delivering this Internet access solely through balloons and blimps.
"There's not going to be one technology that will be the silver bullet,” said the source, mentioning Google could also use satellites to broadcast this access through spectrum known as TV white space.
Google could be testing a small scale version of this kind of network in Cape Town, Africa. In March the company announced their plan to make use of this television white space and deliver Internet access to African schools and universities as well as deep rural areas.
Google has been pushing to use this white space in America to lessen some of the spectrum strain felt by current providers. Some have also wondered if Google aims to use this spectrum as leverage to broaden the reach of their ISP offerings. Currently Google only offers Gigabit fiber to those living in and around the Kansas City area.
The Journal claims Google is also working with regulators in South Africa and Kenya to make TV white space available for Internet access, a move which could be made in a few years.
While Google may be planning to pay for and build Internet-bearing balloons and blimps, they could also be preparing an infrastructure on the ground. The company has been putting together what WSJ calls an “ecosystem of new microprocessors and low-cost smartphones powered by its Android mobile operating system” which could be used to connect to this network. These blimps could broadcast a signal across an area of hundreds of square miles and these Android-powered systems would be able to receive it on the ground.
Google has been working to bring their white space Internet to Cape Town under their Google.org side business, a philanthropic arm of the massive corporation. While the company says it plans to deliver Internet access to the universities and medical centers in the area to connect people all over the world, the Journal claims Google´s intentions may be less noble.
According to last Friday´s Wall Street Journal report, this move is simply the latest in a long line of decisions to have “control over every aspect of a person's connection to the Web.”
As explained by the Journal and countless other sources, Google´s business plan centers on funneling users to their search engine and other services, such as the Play media store and YouTube. Once here, Google can sell ads to these users and therein earn the bulk of their revenue. When viewed this way, Google likely sees the 1 billion unconnected users in Africa and Asia as an untapped revenue stream to fuel their myriad of services.