Look! Up in the sky! It's . . . Internet Access
While telecommunications and Internet service providers are actively deploying fiber optic cable to rural areas around the globe, there are some places that fiber will never reach. However, those areas are home to a nearly 4.4 billion people who have no Internet access at all.
That number is plenty big enough to interest several cyberspace pioneers who would like nothing better than to bring the as yet unserved aboard their new "enterprises." In fact, they are already developing strategies that would launch vast networks of radio-equipped satellites, balloons and drones to serve this untapped market, according to a recent article in the MIT Technology Review.
While nothing has been blasted, floated or flown skyward yet, it is heartening to see that the final frontier is already pretty competitive. SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson have tossed their space helmets into the ring. Google and Facebook are headed into the wild blue yonder, too.
Although traditional satellites would be too pricey and bulky to launch, SpaceX, Google and Fidelity Investments are partnering to create a network composed of 4,000 micro-satellites that would provide broadband Internet service worldwide. These next-generation space satellites are potentially more affordable and practical because they will orbit closer to Earth and they will not have to be launched one at time
Meanwhile, Branson's Virgin Galactic and Qualcomm are working together to use the same type of satellites to provide access specifically to un-served regions of the globe via a company called OneWeb.
There also are ways to get Internet nodes up high enough inside the Earth's atmosphere to create an "orbiting" network. For example, Google also is looking at flying high-altitude balloons, while Facebook is developing high-altitude drones that could stay aloft long enough to provide service to remote locations.
With the amount of money and number of minds already hard at work on Cyber-Space Race 2.0, the results promise to be very interesting. Earth is a very, very big planet – but there is Internet Access to deliver and money to be made by those who persevere and are willing to get creative enough to make it work.