If it’s inland, when it’s inland, it’s all inland in Fiji, a quick fix. But if it’s in the water?
It’s gonna take a long, long time. And it took 13 days to get the 5g internet back. 13 days. Long days and nights. That’s a long time. So if you live in one of these heavily connected places like the United States or many, many other parts of the world, it is very, very unlikely that an anchor cutting a part of your internet is gonna interrupt your service.
But what happened in Tonga does call attention to how important this infrastructure is and how much we rely on it.
I feel like, I mean, I’ve never lived in a time when all of these tools were not part of my daily life. It’s kind of sad that it’s not something, that’s available to everyone.
Yeah, exactly. There are lots of people that still don’t have reliable internet access in the first place. I wanted to find out more about how we could actually solve that problem. So we’re here in Nevada to see a company that’s helping more people get access to the internet. But before we get there,
I have some maps to show you. This is a basic map of the internet backbone in the United States. You can tell just by looking at this map why it might be that some people have a hard time getting low cost, high-speed internet.
Companies aren’t as incentivized to lay fibre optic cabling where there are fewer people there to pay them for it. The same applies to low-income areas. This map shows the areas that researchers call uneconomic for companies in red, meaning that the typical monthly costs exceed the expected monthly revenue.
In many of these red areas, people only have one or two options for internet service providers, meaning that those service providers can jack up the costs. The darker the country, the more people there are paying for internet service. So there’s a lot of variety around the world and even within countries in terms of who has access to the internet and at what cost, and that has a huge impact on people.
What really is 5G and why would it be so fast?
If you haven’t heard about 5G, get ready for a faster internet connection. 5G could end up being 100 times faster, than what we have now. Instead of having a cell tower every few miles,
Yeah. 5G requires that we literally need an antenna on every square block. Okay, hold on.
What really is 5G and why would it be so fast? How does 5G Internet work?
Well, remember those Radio Waves?
What are Radio Waves?
One of the major innovations of 5G is the ability to use higher frequency waves. Because at higher frequencies, you can pack more information into each wave. Here’s the catch. At higher frequencies, it’s easier to block those waves. I mean, visible light is very high frequency and I can block it with my hand.
That’s not a problem for fibre optic cables, because they’re basically long glass laser light tunnels. But 5G has to reach you wirelessly wherever you are, so that would mean they would need a lot more physical infrastructure. Of course, new infrastructure costs money. Companies have the same incentives for where to put 5G that they had before.
Cities, not rural areas, rich communities, not poor ones. So 5G could be an exciting way to improve internet service for people who have fast access already. But the tech required means it’s unlikely to help people who don’t. At least not any time soon.
We’re here to see Loon, and what they do is send balloons into the stratosphere to provide internet access to people below radio waves. Loon is a connectivity company that’s really focused on the unconnected and the under-connected. Loon is owned by Alphabet, which also owns Google and YouTube, who funded this show. But Loon didn’t have any say over our editorial. So, they can’t actually launch a balloon today, because there was a huge storm yesterday, which kind of also goes to show. How finicky a lot of this stuff is.
But what you have to imagine is that there’s a balloon in there and then it launches from that large red thing up into the sky, and it uses stratospheric winds to navigate to its next location, which could be on the other side of the world. So, you can see a number of balloons over here in South America, and you can see what altitude they’re at, like at 60,000 feet, and basically where they’re flying.
This is the hatchery. This is where we build and test all of our flight systems before they go out to launch. So this is the balloon. This is the balloon. And then the part that flies with the balloon. It’s this flight system here and the solar panels.
Got it. And the brains of it are in that box…
That’s being cooled by those fans right now. And so what we do is we put a ground station in a point of vantage, where it can see the sky. And then from there, it can actually talk to one of our balloons. Our balloons can talk to each other and they’re talking via radio waves. And then from one of those balloons that’s over the top of your phone, there’s transmit and receive frequencies that are going down to your phone.
What are some of the best examples that you’ve been most excited about where?
Yeah, when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands, we were able to fly balloons over the top of Puerto Rico. And within a couple of weeks, we were able to serve about a quarter-million subscribers.
Wow. And it’s enough to know that a user on the ground was able to get out a text message or an e-mail or a note to a loved one or something like that.
Amazon has Project Kuiper and, SpaceX has Star link. It seems like this is becoming something that more and more. Companies are focusing on.
Yeah, absolutely. The more the merrier, because there are a lot of people to connect with. These are all space or near-space systems that use radio waves to get people to access the internet. And that’s one reason why it’s unlikely that they’re gonna replace good old cables. Radio waves and laser light and all of these different types of technology that help us get access to the internet all in the end need to work together.
We don’t seek to replace fibre or replace satellites. They’re very complementary technologies. Going into space is still a new thing. I’m pretty confident about my job prospects for at least the next while. The internet isn’t a luxury. We don’t just want to connect.
We need to be a part of this massive, crucial, sometimes infuriating global community. So as you check the news or message a friend or Read our other articles, consider this, our connections have never been virtual. They’re physical, and they’re still very much a work in progress.