Books written by Ray Sullivan

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Google's Loony Idea

Internet access is fast becoming a measure of civilisation.  When the broadband goes down in our house - and recently that's been more often than I'm happy with - the howls of anguish are matched with references to living in a third world country.  Probably a tad unreasonable given we're usually without broadband for maybe two minutes.

The reality is that the internet is more than a medium to send and receive emails while searching the web for some information, it controls our TV programming recording, keeps us connected on social media and allows us to work from home.  Every year we dig ourselves deeper into dependency with the internet and buy gadgets that require access to function.  A lack of internet access stymies our whole way of life, or so it would seem.  When I book a holiday at home or abroad I check on the internet access for the location - does the accommodation have WiFi?  Is there a local café linked to the net?  It skews my purchasing decisions and I suspect that will become the norm pretty soon if it isn't already.  In fact I struggle to understand why hotels , B&Bs and cottages for rent fail to provide internet access as many of these fail to get my custom.  I'm sure others make the same purchasing decision too.

But some parts of the planet have very little realistic hope of internet access.  Not only does this mean I'm less likely to visit, which shouldn't represent that much of a disappointment for them, but it means that locals are disadvantaged compared to the rest of us.  OK, not being able to engage in Facebook or Twitter shouldn't be the end of the world, especially as the day job may be more around making sure you get enough to eat and clean water to drink, but even in developed countries there are many areas that internet access isn't currently possible.  Love it or loathe it, the internet is a great leveller for mankind, as long as it is available to all.  Whether we want to spread our love of democracy, or maybe literacy, internet access can make or break progress.

Google think the answer may be to launch balloons into the stratosphere, floating at twelve miles above the Earth's surface, over regions that currently struggle to receive internet access.  To put that distance into perspective, it equates to twice the operating height of commercial airliners, so shouldn't put them at any risk.  Google have worked out a system that ensures the balloons keep in position utilising clever controls and grabbing energy from the sun.  It certainly sounds feasible.

To prove the concept they have launched thirty such experimental balloons, each fifteen metres in diameter, over New Zealand, a country that is both well developed and sparsely populated.  They've named the project as Project Loon which I suspect may not mean the same as it could in the UK.  Outside of the main population centres in New Zealand running cables is an onerous and expensive task that would make internet access disproportionately expensive.  Trials ongoing should reveal whether the balloon technology, expected to produce 3G-like capability, is workable.  What the study hasn't suggested yet is how the system is likely to be funded.  Because the other issue with these remote parts of the world that are struggling to access the internet is money.  Or perhaps, more importantly, the lack of it.  Possibly not the biggest challenge in New Zealand, but in the middle of a third world country no end of WiFi providing balloons may be of no use unless the locals can access the service for free.

Google are stressing that this is an experiment and if anyone can afford to ring the planet with fifteen metre diameter balloons then Google can, at least as long as they're avoiding paying any taxes. I'm not convinced it is the answer, but I'm happy to be proven wrong.  One area that it may prove to be capable of earning its stripes, though, is in disaster struck areas  Regardless of the indigenous internet capability of the affected area before an disaster strikes, emergency aid workers often benefit from establishing a coherent communication network for the duration of the emergency.  Now I can see that working for the balloons, although the sticky matter of payment may prove to be something that governments have to address.

Internet access for all has to be a universal aim and it's possible that Google are on the right track to ensure it's achieved.  Or maybe their idea is all hot air spouted by a madman howling at the moon.  Only time will tell.


                                                          Visit my Book Website here

        Visit Project: Evil Website here                                        Visit DLF Website here

        Follow me on Twitter  - @RayASullivan

        Join me on Facebook -  use to find me

No comments:

Post a Comment