Google Taking ‘Wireless Blimp Networks’ To Africa And Beyond

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Google is reportedly developing plans to help deploy wireless networks in emerging markets, using technologies including satellites and blimp-based platforms

Google is quietly working with telecommunications companies and governments in developing countries in a wide-ranging plan to vastly expand the reach of the Internet, using technologies including blimp- and satellite-based networks, according a report.

The search engine’s plans reportedly include the deployment of wireless networks in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia that would target potential users outside of large cities, as well as networks that would improve urban Internet speeds.

One billion new users

The project, coordinated by the “access” unit of the company’s secret Google X lab and its non-profit arm Google.org, aims to connect at least one billion more people to the Internet, thus boosting demand for Google’s services and its advertising network, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Google-Logo-On-WallThe plans derive from research driven by Google chief executive Larry Page into alternative methods for providing Internet access, and these plans have recently become “more serious”, according to the report, which cited unnamed sources.

Google plans to retain at least some direct control over the envisioned access networks, the report said. Google has taken this approach to mobile devices in creating the widely-used Android operating system and acquiring Motorola Mobility, and is also building its own fibre-optic networks beginning with the Google Fibre project in the US state of Kansas.

Google has also moved into web access software with its popular Chrome browser and is developing a head-mounted access device called Google Glass.

Broad approach

The access strategy reportedly does not rely on a single technology, but aims rather to deploy different approaches depending on local conditions. The company is reportedly planning to work with local telecommunications firms and equipment providers, but it was unclear whether such alliances have already been formed.

The techniques Google is investigating reportedly include the use of balloon or blimp-based platforms, for transmitting wireless signals across large areas and the creation of a satellite-based network. Google has filed patent applications related to such airborne systems in the past, including a 2000 application related to a “high-altitude platform” used as the basis for a “communications system”.

The search engine would like to use spectrum reserved for television broadcasts in some areas, and is in talks with governments in areas including South Africa and Kenya to bring about the regulatory changes that would allow it to use this spectrum, according to the report.

The company is also reportedly working to build low-cost, Android-based smartphones to connect to these planned networks.

Google declined to comment on the matter.

Google’s push to broaden Internet acccess has been accompanied by aggressive campaigning against organisations and regulations that it argues would limit access to its services.

The company continues to trial experimental access technology. For instance, in January Google sought the approval of the US’ Federal Communications Commission for trials of an experimental wireless network using indoor and outdoor base stations to provide access over a two-mile radius.

It has disclosed plans to expand the Google Fibre network to locations including Austin, Texas and Provo, Utah, and last year held talks with US satellite TV provider Dish Network on building a wireless broadband network in the United States.

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