This past fall, we reported on a development with Google's Project Loon, which aims to deliver Internet via balloons to underserved countries. At some point in 2016, a bunch of balloons will take flight over Indonesia, and once that happens, it could very well spearhead what could become a common sight in Internet-deprived countries.
The internal group that handles Project Loon is called Google Access, and alongside Loon, this segment of Google has also been working on a different, but similar project: Project Skybender. Like Loon, Skybender involves sending objects into the sky, but unlike the cost-effective nature of Loon, Google's going all out with Skybender by relying on drones to transmit wireless signals.
Project Loon, Google's other sky-bound Internet-beaming project
Ultimately, Skybender is designed to transmit 5G data at "up to 40 times" the speed of 4G LTE using millimeter wave technology. While this technology is very effective at transmitting massive amounts of data, the fact that it is outside of the cellphone spectrum is key, as that's extremely crowded; effectively a roadblock. That's not to say that millimeter wave tech is perfect -- at 28GHz, the frequency Google is currently testing out at Spaceport America in New Mexico, the signal fades out at 1/10th the distance of a typical 4G LTE one. Ouch.
Making matters worse, if Google wants to enhance the signal, it needs to focus it from a so-called "phased array." While this would help solve some of the distance issues, it's difficult to do, and it consumes a lot of power -- not a great thing for a solar-powered drone.
Google's Skybender testing ground of choice: Spaceport America in New Mexico
Google will have to find a solution for this challenge before Internet can be delivered via drones. The company is very serious about this endeavor, though, as it's built two communication installations at Spaceport America, both of which are kitted out with a ton of equipment. Nearby, a repeater tower and a dish antenna that supposedly measures 80-feet across.
Both Project Loon and Project Skybender are hugely ambitious projects, and either or both have the capability to dramatically change how we can access the Internet in the future.