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Aviation Unmanned solar vehicle (Titan)

Published on February 19th, 2016 | by Rogier van Rooij


High-Speed Solar-Powered Internet: Google Is Working On It!

February 19th, 2016 by  

According to The Guardian, Google is testing solar-powered drones to provide high-speed internet from the air, as part of a project called SkyBender.

The project aims at delivering 5G internet. This internet technology has the potential of being 40 times as fast as its predecessor 4G, transferring gigabits of data every second. Another benefit of this technology is that it should dramatically reduce latency compared to 4G, supporting the development of self-driving cars by enabling them to communicate with each other almost instantly.

Unmanned solar vehicle (Titan)

The tests are run in New Mexico, where Google rents a facility from private space travel company Virgin Galactic. At this site, the tech firm has been flying with, among other planes, several solar-powered drones made by Google Titan. This division was founded after Google acquired Titan Aerospace in 2014, which worked on high-altitude, solar-powered drones with wingspans up to 50 meters.

solar drone

This is all part of a broader movement, both within and outside Google, to find new ways of providing internet, especially in remote places and less-developed countries that were, till now at least, faced with very poor internet connectivity or no connectivity at all. Google itself is also employing other means, such as balloons, for offering universally accessible internet, and is in company of other tech firms, like Facebook, that are trying to achieve the same.

For delivering this next generation of internet, Google makes use of millimeter-wave radio transmissions. At a reported frequency of 28GHz, the great benefit of applying this technology is that there is little interference by other digital traffic. This is because the frequency is much less used than the overcrowded frequencies via which most cellphones currently communicate. A huge drawback on the other hand, is that the signal fades out much quicker than the 4G signal does. In order to make it work, Google experiments with focused transmission from what is called a phased array. The problem with this technique however, is that it is rather power consuming. Whether it will be possible to exploit this specific method to broadcast 5G internet on a solar-powered drone is therefore not yet clear.

Whether our future hyperfast internet will be provided by balloons, drones, or old-school radio masts remains to be seen, and we will probably not see a lot of solar-powered aircrafts flying around in the very near future. But as the efficiency of solar panels keeps increasing and several experiments with solar-powered aviation are being done, we are moving closer to making this happen in the longer run.

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About the Author

Optimistic, eager to learn and strongly committed to society's wellbeing, Rogier van Rooij wants to share with you the latest cleantech developments, focussing on Western Europe. After graduating cum laude from high school, Rogier is currently an honours student at University College Utrecht in the Netherlands.

  • This looks like a huuuuge plane!! It will be amazing to see what it will do. I haven’t seen something this amazing since the drone was invented!

  • Simple INDIAN

    I live in INDIA and have decent broadband connection @ 2MB / sec. I don’t think we require gigabit or terabit level speeds. Most of the user and usage can be done by decent and constant speeds say @ 8 MB / sec. Over and above that it is wastage.

    Google and other folks should develop equipment and technologies to sustain connectivity on the ground with city mesh networking, LinkNYC like service, Municipal wireless, etc. Only people beyond the reach of wire should be on balloon, drone and satellites, until technology improves to be affordable.

    Government in INDIA should use cable TV connections to provide cable internet so that existing asset is utilised and deployment is faster. VoIP can also be enabled.

  • Otis11

    “This is because the frequency is much less used than the overcrowded frequencies via which most cellphones currently communicate.”

    Mmm… I think you mean greater. Cell phones operate at the 500 Mhz to 2 Ghz range. 28 Ghz is decidedly higher than this…

  • Stijn

    “Whether our future hyperfast internet will be provided by balloons, drones, or old-school radio masts remains to be seen, …”
    Or the net of satellites in development at SpaceX…

    • Bob_Wallace

      Hyperfast internet will not be brought to us by satellite. Up/down lag is significant.

      Notice the delay during news programs while a question is answered from somewhere else in the world? That’s the delay.

      I lived with a satellite ISP for several years. One does not want to go there.

      • Ronald Brakels

        Technically an adequate number of low orbit satellites working together could get a signal to the other side of the planet faster than a fibre optic cable. This is because while light travels at a constant speed, in a glass fibre photons keep getting absorbed and then reemitted again, and that takes time, so the signal only travels at about 70% the speed of light. The satellite signal would travel a greater total distance, but would be able to more than make up for it with greater speed.

        But actually getting a web of suitable satellites that can do that cheaply enough to effectively compete with fibre optic any time soon is another matter. Satellites are expensive and fragile and George Clooney’s body could easily smack into them.

        • Peter

          Yes, not having to go 36000 km out to geostationary orbit and back again really cuts down on the latency.

          I think Spacex’s interest in creating a global satellite network primarily is a way to bootstrap the market for space launch and create a guaranteed demand for their own launches.

          If they reach their goals of reusability and turnaround times they would end up with more launch capacity then the current global market actually needs so there would have to be new markets to cover the fixed costs of their infrastructure. Otherwise their costs might not go down all that much.

      • Simple INDIAN

        It’s like when you have no other option we should go for satellite.

        Urban / Suburban areas – cable / fibre / wireless mesh, because of density

        Automotive use and Rural areas – 3G / 4G / 5G / White Space

        Hilly / Remote Area / Aircraft / Maritime – Balloon, Blimps, Drone, Laser, Satellite

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