Elon Musk is planning satellites to spread Internet connectivity – but will they work?

April 4, 2016 – 06:56 am

internet.org drone.SpaceX reportedly hopes to launch satellites that will help spread Internet access to remote parts of the globe, escalating an innovation race that also features Google and Facebook taking big risks to expand the Web.

Tech companies want to spread Internet access to build a larger customer base for their growing ecosystem of service and mobile devices. In 2013, approximately 40 percent of people on the planet used the Internet, according to the International Telecommunications Union. Many users were in Europe, Canada and the U.S., while regions like Africa and South America had less Internet infrastructure.

Space Exploration Technologies CEO Elon Musk posted on Twitter that his firm “in two to three months” will announce plans involving microsatellites that could be a solution to that connectivity problem.

[READ: The Internet Remains Politically Divided ]

Musk has contemplated launching a fleet of roughly 700 satellites – each weighing about half the size of the smallest private sector communication satellites in current orbit – in hopes that the devices will be less expensive than past efforts to broadcast signals to Earth, The Wall Street Journal reports.

SpaceX is still in the early stages of developing advanced micro-satellites operating in large formations. Announcement in 2 to 3 months.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk)

The project could cost at least $1 billion, and Musk is working with Greg Wyler, founder of WorldVu Satellites Ltd. – a company that has both the radio wave spectrum and satellite design expertise to help make the venture happen, the Journal reports. Google briefly employed Wyler to run a similar satellite project, but he left out of concern the company did not have the needed manufacturing expertise, the Journal reports.

And while Google may have lost Wyler, the company is still working on ways to connect remote regions to the Internet: Project Loon, aims to beam network signals from high-altitude balloons.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils SpaceX's new seven-seat Dragon V2 spacecraft in Hawthorne, Calif. on May 29, 2014.The tech giant in April also acquired Titan Aerospace, which makes solar-powered drones, and in September requested permission from the Federal Communications Commission to test fly drones in New Mexico that could one day “provide Internet connections in remote areas.”

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Facebook, also hoping to boost Internet audiences around the world, in March announced its own program that aims to use solar-powered drones capable of flying for months at a time and beaming network connection signals using lasers.

Facebook's Connectivity Lab will develop satellites, lasers and solar-powered drones to “beam internet to people from the sky."

The big question with such efforts: Will they work? Attempts to boost communication signals with satellites or drones date back to the 1990s, including plans by telecoms like Teledesic, Globalstar and Iridium.

But necessity may add incentive as technology is improving and customers are demanding stronger connections, says Harold Feld, a wireless analyst and senior vice president at consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge.

“People learn from the mistakes of the past, ” Feld says. “Some of these things may become more practical in the next couple of years.”

Cautioning that “Elon Musk is not the first person to think of this, ” Feld points out that problems await anybody who wants to integrate satellites and drones as part of an Internet connection network.

Source: www.usnews.com

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