5 crazy plans to end Wi-Fi deadspots
There are over 3 billion people who live without access to the internet so here are 5 crazy ideas that aim to bring the World Wide Web to everybody.
The creation of Wi-Fi and mobile hotspots has let us get the most out of the internet wherever we go, but it's all too easy to stumble on deadspots that halt productivity, even in the heart of a beating metropolis. Rural regions fare much worse, and over half the world still doesn't have access to the internet at all. So how do we overcome geography and poverty to get everyone connected?
Tech companies are bursting with amazing and ambitious ideas that could bring the internet to everybody, anywhere in the world, from hotspot hot air balloons to Wi-Fi satellites. Read on as we take a look at the most unusual ways that companies are cloaking the globe in internet reception.
X Project Loon
Project Loon is a concept developed by Google research and development subsidiary X, the department behind a number of massive projects, including the Waymo self-driving car. It's Project Loon that could make the biggest difference to people all around the world, however.
In effect, Project Loon is a network of balloons that fly through the stratosphere, using wireless routers high above the clouds to create networks across the surface of the Earth. While people in wealthier countries have come to take the internet for granted, X points out that more than half the planet is yet to get online, with Project Loon's balloon-based networks offering billions of people the prospect of connecting for the first time.
SpaceX Starlink satellites
Look at any cutting-edge technology from the past couple of years, where men and women are pushing the boundaries of what's possible, and Elon Musk’s name pops up again and again. The quest to bring internet to everybody is no different, with Musk's SpaceX company taking a similar route to Project Loon, but in this case replacing high altitude balloons with satellites, and lots of satellites at that.
SpaceX intends to create a constellation of nearly 12,000 satellites, with the network dubbed Starlink, and the aim is to deliver low cost global broadband for all, beamed through the air – no more routers and powerline adapters.
Starlink isn't the only platform that's looking to broaden access to the internet using satellites, with OneWeb aiming to launch as many as 900 Wi-Fi beaming satellites over the next decade. The company, backed by investors including Airbus, Bharti and and Richard Branson's Virgin, is aiming to make internet access available and affordable to everybody on the planet, not least the two million schools that are currently without broadband. Terminals on the ground will communicate with the satellites, emitting 3G, LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi signals to surrounding areas to offer high-speed broadband.
Facebook Aquila plane
Lots of the world's greatest tech minds have evidently come to the conclusion that the best way to beam broadband to the most remote parts of the planet is to use orbiting platforms, including balloons and satellites, but the jury is still out on what format strikes the best balance between cost and efficiency.
Facebook has taken a different route to its rivals above, with its Aquila drone running on solar power and navigating the planet at 60,000ft (18,288m). Facebook's drones will be made out of carbon fibre, weigh less than 450kg and communicate with each other by laser, flying for months at a time without manned assistance.
With the likes of Facebook and Google involved in bringing broadband to everyone, it's no surprise to see that Microsoft is also getting in on the action.
Microsoft's 4Africa concept provides a completely different way of putting an end to internet deadspots, aiming to connect millions of people in Africa to the internet by using unassigned frequencies in television broadcast bands, which covers up to four times the distance of traditional Wi-Fi – and at lower costs. The use of previously unused broadcast bands isn't the only innovative thing about 4Africa, either, with pilot schemes also using solar-powered base stations to connect schools, libraries and healthcare clinics in deprived areas.