New technologies bringing internet to the unconnected

It is estimated than around one third of the world’s population has access to the internet. One challenge now being taken on by global tech giants is to provide internet access to the other two thirds. But how are they doing this?

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NBN in Australia

The majority of Australia’s population is gathered around the country’s coastlines. Given Australia’s vast land mass, it’s not surprising that much of the country – where fewer people reside – has less than perfect internet connection.

The National Broadband Network hopes to change all that. As the technology rolls out and NBN coverage expands, more Australians will have access to faster internet, where previously there may have been no internet access at all.

Google’s Project Loon

While the NBN rollout is currently underway in Australia, Google, Facebook and Amazon are currently undergoing trials to bring internet access to the rest of the world.

Google’s Project Loon is designed to do just that. Loon has been testing large, high-altitude balloons that send internet signals to areas of the world that are currently not online. However, balloons are subject to the mercy of the weather and can be difficult to control.

Which is why Google acquired Titan Aerospace earlier this month – a start-up that makes solar-powered drones. By developing jet-sized drones that can fly non-stop for years, Project Loon could provide internet access to remote areas not served by telephone wires or mobile phone towers.

“It is still early days, but atmospheric satellites could help bring Internet access to millions of people, and help solve other problems, including disaster relief and environmental damage like deforestation,” a Google spokesman said.

“Initial commercial operations” are expected to launch in 2015. To achieve this though, there are many technical problems that will have to be overcome.

Facebook’s Connectivity Lab

Facebook also acquired a solar-powered drone maker – Ascenta – with hopes of achieving similar goals. At the end of March, Mark Zuckerberg unveiled Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, a venture that will work with to provide internet access to those in the world who lack it.

To achieve this, the project will use “solar-powered high altitude, long endurance aircraft” in suburban areas, and low-Earth orbit and geosynchronous satellites in less populated areas.

The ins and outs of this is best explained in this Connectivity Lab video.

In his Facebook post, Zuckerberg said, “Our goal with is to make affordable access to basic internet services available to every person in the world.

“We’ve made good progress so far. Over the past year, our work in the Philippines and Paraguay alone has doubled the number of people using mobile data with the operators we’ve partnered with, helping 3 million new people access the internet.

“We’re going to continue building these partnerships, but connecting the whole world will require inventing new technology too. That’s what our Connectivity Lab focuses on, and there’s a lot more exciting work to do here.”

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