Imagine a world without the Internet. Seems impossible doesn’t it? But two-thirds of the world’s population does not yet have Internet access. Google and Facebook are trying to change that with two ambitious ideas, Project Loon and Internet.org.
Google’s Project Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters. Facebook’s Internet.org is a global partnership between technology leaders, nonprofits, local communities and experts who are working together to bring affordable Internet access to everybody by increasing affordability, increasing efficiency, and facilitating the development of new business models around the provision of Internet access.
Project Loon began in June 2013 with an experimental pilot in New Zealand, where a small group of Project Loon pioneers tested the technology. Project Loon balloons float in the stratosphere, twice as high as airplanes and the weather. In the stratosphere, there are many layers of wind, and each layer of wind varies in direction and speed. Loon balloons go where they are needed by rising or descending into a layer of wind blowing in the desired direction of travel. People can connect to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna attached to their building. The signal bounces from this antenna up to the balloon network, and then down to the global Internet on Earth.
Each balloon can provide connectivity to a ground area about 40 km in diameter at speeds comparable to 3G. The inflatable part of the balloon is called a balloon envelope. A well-made balloon envelope is critical for allowing a balloon to last around 100 days in the stratosphere. When a balloon is ready to be taken out of service, gas is released from the envelope to bring the balloon down to Earth in a controlled descent. In the unlikely event that a balloon drops too quickly, a parachute attached to the top of the envelope is deployed.
Internet.org is Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s initiative that aims to make Internet access available to billions of people worldwide by working on data-compression technologies and cheap, high-quality smartphones to make the web cheaper. According to Zuckerberg in August 2013, “There are huge barriers in developing countries to connecting and joining the knowledge economy. Intenet.org brings together a global partnership that will work to overcome these challenges, including making Internet access available to those who cannot currently afford it.” Zuckerberg lays out his thoughts on accessibility in a paper called “Is Connectivity a Human Right?”
The three major initiatives of the partnership as laid out by Josh Constine in a techcrunch.com article are:
• Making access affordable through cheaper smartphones, and working with mobile operators to extend Internet access to underserved communities.
• Using data more efficiently so people don’t run up high costs. Internet.org partners may look to build data-compression tools, bolster network efficiency, and improve data caching.
• Helping businesses drive access to grow mobile businesses sustainability. Partners will aim to create mutually beneficial incentives for app developers, device OEMs, and operators that will get more people online. The companies will also work together to help mobile devices support more languages to demolish barriers to usage.
What does this mean to marketers? With the expansion of the Internet, the digital arena widens and marketers must be ready to embrace a whole new population most likely never before considered. Some are criticizing this effort, calling it a self-serving business project masked by an altruistic veneer. While global Internet access would benefit Facebook and the other companies involved, it would also bring huge benefits for billions of impoverished people, including the impact on work and the ability to bring jobs to people around the world.