Balloons vs. Drones: Facebook and Google battle to globalize the internet

Posted on Apr 16 2014 - 7:47am by Guest Writer

By Katelynn Padron, Business Writer

Internet superpowers Google and Facebook are racing to supply Internet access to the unconnected world through balloons and drones.

Google’s Internet venture is called Project Loon.

Last June, it launched 30 balloons off  South Island,  New Zealand to test their capacity to provide Internet.

“We believe it’s possible to create a ring of balloons that fly around the globe on the stratospheric winds and provide Internet access to the earth below,” Google said on its Project Loon website.

Mark Zuckerberg announced March 21 that Facebook would be using drones and lasers to beam Internet service to earth.

Facebook is managing the project through its Internet.org Connectivity Lab.

The Connectivity Lab homepage says it is a “global partnership between technology leaders, nonprofits, local communities and experts who are working together to bring the internet to the two thirds of the world’s population that doesn’t have it.”

These technology leaders include cell phone companies Nokia and Samsung. In Zuckerberg’s paper explaining the latest details of the project, he challenged Project Loon.

He said Connectivity Lab intends to use drones in order to “precisely control the location of these aircraft, unlike balloons.”

Both corporations’ programs position themselves as altruistic attempts to unite the globe.

Facebook claims to be building a knowledge economy.

“When people have access to the internet,” Zuckerberg wrote, “they can not only connect with their friends, family and communities, but they can also gain access to the tools and information to help find jobs, start businesses, access healthcare, education and financial services, and have a greater say in their societies. They get to participate in the knowledge economy.”

Google similarly referred to the Internet as “one of the most transformative technologies of our lifetimes.”

In a 2013 interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Microsoft founder Bill Gates was less than impressed with the idea of projecting Internet connection to those in need.

“When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you,” Gates said.

Skeptics like Gates cannot ignore the concrete benefits Internet connectivity has for Facebook and Google though.

Mark Little, analyst for Ovum business consulting, said he believes the potential increase in Internet users is primarily a gain for Facebook.

“Zuckerberg is pushing this as an altruistic way of connecting more people in the world — the net as a basic human right,” Little said.

“But by increasing the total of net connections it also increases Facebook’s members and the amount of sharing done, which in turn creates more space for advertising and drives its revenues in a massive way.”

Little also said he believes that political boundaries will be a big challenge for Google and Facebook.

“Some governments won’t put up with having that fleet over their airspace,” Little said.

However, CNN’s Heather Kelly pointed out that “humanitarian organizations have been pushing for more
access in these remote areas to improve the efficiency of aid work.

She said it would make it easier to set up remote healthcare stations in situations where the nearest doctors or hospitals are hours or days away.

Regardless of their intentions, Facebook and Google will continue their connectivity competition.

Google is testing its balloons in the atmosphere.

Facebook is working on creating technology to transmit Internet through difficult geographic areas.

To find out more about these projects, visit Internet.org and Google.com/loon.