Internet everywhere – and for free?


One is a vociferous inventor, especially in the transportation segment, and the other a mega investor who is credited for turning everything he touches into gold, though not literally.

Yes, we are talking about Elon Musk and Richard Branson. Both are in news this week for two similar projects – utilising space and satellites for cheap, high speed internet across the world.

It was Richard Branson who first made the announcement that he is partnering with Qualcomm to launch one of the largest satellite constellation, to create a global internet and telephone network.

“Delighted to share news of an incredibly exciting project that could transform the world: we are creating a new constellation of satellites to make high speed internet and telephony available to billions of people who don’t currently have access,” the announcement on the Virgin website said.

Both Virgin and Qualcomm will invest in OneWeb to build, launch and operate the world’s largest ever satellite network. Virgin Galactic’s Launcher One programme will help make it possible with frequent satellite launches at a much lower cost and with greater reliability.

According to reports it is an initiative to launch about 600-plus satellites across the earth thereby providing a 'constellation' of Internet access points.

Oneweb in its announcement noted that as per statistics made available by the International Telecommunications Union, as of the end of 2014, more than half the world’s population lacks Internet access. “The OneWeb satellite system introduces the first-ever telecom-class micro satellites. This projected fleet of 648 micro satellites is intended to provide low-latency, high-speed Internet access directly to small user terminals deployed around the world.”

The service will be made available to mobile operators globally, enabling them to provide coverage to rural and remote areas. “OneWeb plans to work with local operator partners to provide this access. OneWeb terminals act as small cells with the ability to provide access to the surrounding area via a WiFi, LTE, 3G or 2G connection using an operator partner’s licensed spectrum, or only LTE or WiFi on unlicensed spectrum,” it noted.

Then came the announcement by SpaceX. That it plans to create a network of satellites around the earth to provide high-speed Internet to the masses.

If Oneweb was talking about 600 plus satellites, SpaceX announced that it plans to some 4,000 satellites in the orbit to provide low cost, high-speed Internet worldwide. What’s more the CEO of Tesla Motors who is also planning to buit  high speed (600 miles per hour) tube or railway service says he plan to utilize profits from the internet programme to fund a Martian city and later connect inhabitants there to what will grow much beyond what we call today the worldwide internet.

According to a report by Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Musk commenting on the project said, “Our focus is on creating a global communications system that would be larger than anything that has been talked about to date.”

Google too is working on a project to provide balloon powered internet. Its Project Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space and designed to connect people in rural and remote areas.

Last month the company expanded its pilot test to Australia flying 20 balloons over Western Queensland.


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