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Satellites Win Over Balloons for Internet

Providing internet services in the rural areas also called as “notspots” is still a big challenge. Speed keeps slowing down due to data cap on cellular services. As per data from Federal Communications Commission about 39% of population living in rural parts of the U.S. lacks access to high-speed internet services as against 4% of Urban Americans. Therefore, there was need for alternative for satellite based internet. This gave way to the concept of providing internet to rural areas through network of large balloons. However, the results seem to be disappointing. Just the last week Google scrapped its Loon Company which was set up nine years ago to provide internet to the rural areas. However, the balloon network concept failed to provide long term sustainable business. Similar is the case with Facebook’s Aquila, a project using fling internet drones was abandoned. Surprisingly Elon Musk’s Starlink, the satellite based internet are picking up well.

Satellites Win Over Balloons for Internet

Further developments in satellite based internet services is expected to address the existing issues. The recent services are assuring high speed, reliability, low latency and also are expected to be weather proof. Right now the focus is on low-flying satellite network to provide effective internet services in the rural areas. Starlink for example is expected to provide internet services through 42,000 satellites. The company’s services are already being adopted by a small group of people in North America and the UK. OneWeb, is other such company that is launching satellites after its recovery from bankruptcy with the aid from Bharati Global (Indian conglomerate) and the UK government. However, its services have not used been commercialized. Amazon’s Project Kuiper is also in the row with the plan to launch over 3000 satellites of its own. Beijing has also announced its measures to support satellite based broadband services.

Given all the above plans, it’s unimaginable as to how many satellites would be used in the coming future. This has led to growing concerns from stargazers and astronomers.  These satellites would change the night sky, affect the visibility of the stars, may increase space debris and cause pollution. However, Mr. Elon Musk tweeted “There are already 4900 satellites in orbit, which people notice ~0% of the time. Starlink won’t be seen by anyone unless looking very carefully & will have ~0% impact on advancements in astronomy. We need to move telescopes to orbit anyway. Atmospheric attenuation is terrible.”

However, the biggest challenge with respect to satellite based internet service, is huge and risky investment that is required. Loon LLC for instance was not able to make profit despite its significant partnership with mobile networks in Africa. OneWeb is still short of $1 Billion to $1.5 Billion funding. Higher investment also means higher prices at least at initial level. SpaceX for instance charged $99 per month plus $499 fee for hardware for its initial offering in North America. Some countries like UK and India are charged very less for using internet services; it’s difficult to acquire such customers with such high prices. And with very many companies planning for investments is already indicating the level of competition. Therefore, long term sustainability depends on the prices and effective services that can be offered to its customers.

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