Google's Project Loon is a very low-publicity but ambitious project first announced in 2013 that originally aimed to provide broadband Internet served from balloon relays floating in the stratosphere that would link back to a traditional ISP somewhere along the chain. The project started as a pilot (no pun intended) in rural New Zealand, tested across licensed radio spectrum in Nevada last April, and had another test of its LTE deliverance capabilities in Brazil over the summer.
Meanwhile, Facebook is testing solar-powered drones the size of a commercial airliner that would fly around and act as satellite relays, transmitting Internet service back to earth. The social network is hoping that one human operator could fly 100 drones, and that a drone could fly for five years before needing replacement or repair.
If you're wondering why companies like Google or Facebook would care so much about helping more people at home and abroad get online, well, it depends how optimistic you are. Facebook helms Internet.org, a corporate activism group that campaigns to make broadband more affordable to the world's population with participation from browser developers, smartphone manufacturers, and platform holders. And Google is making headlines with its slow rollout of an affordable Google Fiber crazy-fast ISP. So if you want to believe these megacorps are after the positive ink and the philanthropy, more power to you.
But consider also that Google and especially Facebook have business models that rely heavily on user growth in order to thrive. The more people in more countries who are connected, the more people in more countries signing up for Facebook profiles and looking at Google ads. Moreover, owning the infrastructure would give these companies a lot of leverage when it came to political or business negotiations.
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