Last year, Google began testing Project Loon balloons over New Zealand. The project is an offshoot of the secretive Google X skunkworks, which takes seemingly crazy ideas (self-driving cars, Google Glass) and tries to make them real.
Much like Facebook, as it prepares to bring the internet to the hinterlands, Google gives this effort an altruistic veneer. But it’s worth pointing out that this is the company’s second internet service initiative.
The first is Google Fiber, the search giant’s ultra-high-speed gambit to become an internet service provider by laying its own cables in the ground. A few U.S. cities already have the promised 1-gigabit-per-second service, and Google recently announced it’s exploring plans to bring Fiber to many more.
The company says it wants to see what kind of civic good can come to cities wired up with even faster internet speeds. But establishing such an infrastructure also pushes telecom and cable companies to offer their own high-speed services, which helps Google deliver its own services faster.
Fiber may even give Google insurance against the hassles it could face from incumbent ISPs newly empowered to set up internet roadblocks as net neutrality protections disappear.
For now, net neutrality isn’t necessarily as big an issue for Facebook. After all, status updates don’t take up nearly as much bandwidth as YouTube videos. But a company as ambitious as Facebook is always thinking ahead, and drones could give the social network a way to go one better than Google by focusing on putting the internet in the air instead of in the ground.
The idea of an airborne internet has been discussed for a long time, but it will likely take a company with the resources of a Facebook or a Google to bring the concept into the real world.
From a logistics standpoint, the sky seems like much more efficient, scalable way to build connectivity. Instead of the intensive, intrusive labor of digging trenches and laying pipes, just send more drones up in the air to bring more homes online. If the drones can really stay aloft the way Titan says they can, there’s way more space available in the sky than there is down below.