One week and 46 years ago, the Internet was born. Or to be precise, its predecessor (or an earlier manifestation) the ARPANET delivered its first message, on 29 October 1969. Due to the creation of The World Wide Web two decades later, the Internet became the backbone interconnecting first the selected few and then eventually billions of people around the world. Although the amount of Internet users has grown staggering 806% since December 2000, shockingly still only 45% of global population has access to the Internet. So how do we get the rest 55% online? One answer to this is free Internet. Utopian? Not necessarily, since it’s actually closer than most of us think.
If you happened to catch the Kingsman in movie theatres earlier this year, then you already know what’s probably the worst case scenario for free Internet. Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Silicon Valley billionaire Richmond Valentine, provides everyone with a SIM-card that includes free calls and free Internet. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say it turns out there’s was a price to pay, after all. Anyway, inspired by that movie I gathered a list of free Internet initiatives that are happening right now.
Probably the most media attention gathered enterprise of the bunch is Google’s Project Loon. This almost scifi-like endeavor involves a technique that could only be described as “hot air balloons on steroids”, where these balloons drift in the altitude of about 32 kilometers, dispersing wireless network with up to 3G-speeds. These things have solar panels and emergency parachutes, plus they change their drifting direction by gaining or losing altitude in order to hop and surf between the wind currents. It’s so crazy it works, and Sri Lanka is actually already using this technology.
Outernet is our second player in the list. Their aerial Internet hotspots are out-flying Google’s balloons, as the former trusts in satellites for providing the signal coverage. Right now Outernet operates through six satellites covering 99% of globe’s population, and with the help of U.K. Space Agency, they will launch their first three nanosatellites in early 2016. But there’s a catch. Outernet provides only a library of curated content (although anyone can suggest and vote on what content will become available). Not only that, but you can only receive the signal through one of the devices that they sell, or by building your own receiver.
Satellites are the go-to choice for the next contender too. Elon Musk has asked the authorities for a permission to let his private space travel company, SpaceX, put 4000 satellites into orbit to provide internet for the earth. Outernet’s soon-to-be nine satellites doesn’t sound so impressive anymore, now does it? This will effectively make SpaceX an ISP, but unfortunately, not for free. Many sources mistakenly claim that Musk has said “free and unfettered internet access for the masses”, when actually this was his tweet:
Moving on, the final big player in the scene is Microsoft. The company aims to provide free internet access through “white space”, which is basically just an unused signal spectrum between TV channels. The project has already started in India and Africa, and Microsoft has demoed the technology also in Seattle Center, where it proved to be a lot faster and more capable than previous Wi-Fi of the location. On average, Wi-Fi connections have a range of about 100 metres, whereas the 200-300 MHz spectrum band available in the white space can take signals up to 10km and enable speeds up to 16Mbps.
So which of these initiatives is going to succeed? I have no idea, but one thing’s for sure: we will get those 4 billion people online sooner than later. How do you think the Internet will change when that happens? Or does it change at all? Think about that for a moment while watching this lyrical broadcast: