'Shoebox-sized' satellites may provide free Internet
March 14, 2016
by Mark Ollig

Surprisingly, there are nearly 4 billion people living on this planet without reliable, high-speed access to the Internet.

Ideas have been proposed and designs tested, for providing these underserved areas of the world an entrance ramp; if you will, onto the fast lane of the Internet.

Project Loon is Google’s plan for using a network of high-altitude balloons (carrying special electronics) for providing Internet to people living in remote areas of the planet.

People in these areas could be experiencing Internet unreliability, slow data speeds, or not have access to the Internet.

According to Project Loon, they have just signed agreements with three mobile operators to begin using their balloon-powered Internet service over Indonesia this year.

Out of the 250 million people living in Indonesia, only one in three are connected to the Internet.

How do these balloons provide Internet service to the folks on the ground?

On the outside of a home or building, a special Wi-Fi Internet antenna is attached, and communicates with one of the high-altitude balloons.

Each balloon communicates with other nearby balloons, and forms a network.

One balloon is designated to wirelessly link up with a ground station having a connection to an ISP (Internet Service Provider).

In 2013, Project Loon launched 30 testing balloons from New Zealand’s South Island.

One homeowner located within the test area, had extremely slow Internet service, and was chosen to have the special Wi-Fi antenna installed on his house.

It was said the homeowner, once having his computer connected to Project Loon’s Internet network, smiled as the first webpage he clicked on quickly downloaded.

Aquila is the name of an airborne “flying wing” which is part of Facebook’s Internet.org project for extending Internet access to areas of the world with limited, or no Internet access.

The Aquila has a wide wingspan (112 feet), and weighs less than 1,000 pounds.

It’s a non-piloted, solar-powered, V-shaped aircraft with four propellers; two on each wing.

Aquila will fly in a circular pattern above conventional air traffic at an altitude of 90,000 feet during the day, and 60,000 feet at night.

Facebook’s plan calls for an Internet-gateway ground station to transmit an Internet radio signal to an Aquila “mother aircraft.”

The mother aircraft will then transmit this signal via a laser beam, to a cluster of other Aquila aircraft flying in the surrounding area.

Ground coverage by each of these circling airborne, flying wings, will be some 31 square miles.

Each will then deliver Internet access to the smartdevices and computers on the ground via a Wi-Fi radio signal.

An Aquila aircraft is designed to remain in flight for three months; after which, it will glide back to Earth, be refurbished, and flown again.

“We can’t beam Internet connectivity to people if we don’t know where communities are, so we built AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology to analyze 15.6 billion satellite images to create much more accurate population maps across 21.6 million square kilometers of Earth,” said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook co-founder and CEO, last week on his Facebook profile page.

He also said the maps would be shared so other organizations can use them “with planning energy, health, and transport infrastructure, as well as assisting people who need help in disasters.”

I recently watched an interesting demonstration video by SkyFi, who calls itself: “The future of satellite communications systems.”

SkyFi wants to use its nano-satellites (about the size of a shoebox), and its unique, expandable antenna design, to provide free Wi-Fi Internet access for the entire planet.

Yes, you read that right folks – free Internet access for the entire planet.

SkyFi states positioning 60 nano-satellites in Earth-orbit, would allow blanket Internet coverage around the globe.

The engineers with SkyFi have experience working with nano-satellites, and designing antennas for use in space.

More than 20 patents have been filed by members of SkyFi, which demonstrates to me their credibility for this project.

I also learned SkyFi recently obtained $3 million in investment funding from a venture capital firm.

“The advancements in materials, together with high-end mechanics and algorithms, have enabled us to design an unprecedented communication system,” said Daniel Rockberger, co-founder and chief operations officer of SkyFi.

“The high flexibility of our nano-satellites, and the ability to provide multiple services to different customers, enables us to offer free Internet access to the whole planet, in the same manner as GPS (Global Positioning System) services are free,” said Raz Itzhaki Tamir, co-founder and CEO of SkyFi, in a recent press release.

He added, their nano-satellites will “bridge great divides” and provide for a “great global connected community.”

SkyFi’s completed satellite network reportedly will offer the capability of data service speeds of up to 1Gbps (one gigabit per second) to any location on the Earth.

Check out SkyFi’s nano-satellite plan, via their YouTube channel http://tinyurl.com/bits-SkyFi.

Their website is: http://www.skyfi.tech.

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