Google’s secret plan for 5G internet uses solar drones

Google Titan
Google Titan has built high-altitude solar-powered drones with wingspans of up to 50 metres. Image via Google

Is 4G internet still too slow for you? Relax, Google’s coming to your aid with super-secret new technology will be beamed to your phone from space. It’s called 5G and it’s coming to you via solar-powered drones.

As if balloons weren’t enough for the technology giant, it is now testing several prototype transceivers at Spaceport America in New Mexico, the Guardian reports.

40 times faster

The secretive project, codenamed SkyBender, is testing high-frequency millimetre-wave radio transmissions, which could transmit gigabits of data every second at speeds up to 40 times more than today’s 4G LTE systems.

Google ultimately envisages thousands of high altitude “self-flying aircraft” delivering internet access around the world, the report says. “The huge advantage of millimetre wave is access to new spectrum because the existing cellphone spectrum is overcrowded. It’s packed and there’s nowhere else to go,” Jacques Rudell, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle and specialist in this technology, was quoted as saying.

Google is reportedly paying Virgin Galactic $1,000 (Dh3,674) per day for the use of a hangar about 15,000 square feet in area at the Gateway to Space terminal, as well as an additional $300,000 to Spaceport America for the construction of onsite tech, including servers and wave transceivers.

Twin tests

The SkyBender system is being tested with two different aircraft: an “optionally piloted” (or possibly unmanned) aircraft called Centaur as well as solar-powered drones made by Google Titan, a startup it acquired in 2014. Titan has built high-altitude solar-powered drones with wingspans of up to 50 metres.

The internet giant is thought to be the first private company to attempt using drones and millimetre wave technology to develop telecommunications. In 2014, Darpa, the research arm of the US military, launched a program called Mobile Hotspots, to manufacture a fleet of drones that could provide one gigabit per second communications for troops operating in remote areas.

5G is expected to be available for widespread use in the early 2020s, but boffins differ as to what exactly the new technology constitutes. A new mobile generation has appeared approximately every 10 years since Nordic Mobile Telephone, the first 1G system, was introduced in 1982. NASA has been working to develop 5G communication technology since 2008.

SkyBender is reportedly part of Google Access, the division responsible for Project Loon, Google’s balloon-powered Wi-Fi project that aims to bring remote parts of the world online.


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