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OPLIN 4cast #442: Beam it up

Posted in 4cast

droneFacebook and Google are both involved in ambitious and interesting projects to economically expand Internet access to some of the most remote areas on earth by using the skies above us. Google’s Project Loon would use balloons in the stratosphere to connect cell phones on earth to the global Internet. Facebook’s (with several other partners) would use a variety of aerial means, including drones, to do something similar. The technology behind these projects is pretty interesting, and certainly the goals are commendable. But some people are worried that the organizations driving this expansion of connectivity are for-profit Internet companies.

  • How Loon works (Project Loon | Google)  “Each balloon can provide connectivity to a ground area about 40 km in diameter using a wireless communications technology called LTE. To use LTE, Project Loon partners with telecommunications companies to share cellular spectrum so that people will be able to access the Internet everywhere directly from their phones and other LTE-enabled devices. Balloons relay wireless traffic from cell phones and other devices back to the global Internet using high-speed links.”
  • Connecting the world from the sky [pdf] ( | Mark Zuckerberg)  “For lower population densities, where people are spread out across a large area, the higher up you go, the more cost effective it becomes to place trunk stations and to deliver the internet. But signal loss will also be higher, so satellite access is only really a way of providing a basic internet experience for remote communities. Likewise, for high population densities, only lower altitude platforms will be truly effective, and connection speeds will be faster and the experience better for a lot of people. Given these challenges, Facebook is working on a range of technologies that will provide different options for connecting people.”
  • Facebook’s platform is a privacy nightmare (MediaNama | Nikhil Pahwa)  “First up, no matter what Facebook says about being a means of promoting Internet usage, it isn’t. It’s a fundamental, permanent change in the way the Internet works by splitting it into free vs paid access. It isn’t the same as giving someone Rs 10 of data access or even 100 mb. It is a permanent shift. While the kingmaker issue has been somewhat addressed by opening up the platform, there is only one true king in all of this, which is Facebook.”
  • Critics fear tech giant dominance of airborne internet (Al Jazeera | Tarek Bazley)  “But critics say Google’s search engine is already a powerful force online and any move that would see it controlling infrastructure as well, would give the company too much power. ‘Drones and balloons, these are awesome but what are they being used for?’ says Aral Balkan, an independent internet developer. ‘Are the underlying power dynamics changing? Or is it again a very small group of people exerting their power and control over a much larger group?’”

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