Beaming Internet from the Skies

Beaming Internet from the Skies

“Before they can get online, they need to get charged.” [article on Facebook’s plan to connect the world.]

I’m sure you’ve heard the chatter by now. Africa is the world’s new emerging market. And many of the world’s billionaires have grand plans to connect Africa to the world via technology and internet connectivity.

SpaceX, Virgin, FB, Google Loon, Bezos’s Aerospace Co, Galactic, X-Prize—they’re all pointing to Africa being the next frontier and who can solve the connectivity issue first. The issue is not overall connectivity with the deep sea cables going live 5 years ago. But it’s last mile distribution.

Building roads, integrating telecom infrastructure, and connecting rural regions. Did you know the majority of Africa is still rural?

According to our friends at the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA-ZW), there are 1.5 million subsistence farmers in Zimbabwe (out of a total population of 15 million citizens). And they all live out by “kumusha." Straight rural. It’s too expensive for the Econets and Telecels of the world to build roads into these areas.

There has to be a better way.

Now the caveat here is that beaming VSAT from space doesn't provide the capabilities to stream video and heavy downloads effectively. But it will provide 2G-3G connectivity in most areas—allowing for basic connectivity, communication, mobile banking, field research, and many other data transfers.

We’re exploring this heavily and have a solution that involves an amplification of the satellite signal. This allows a solar application to be attached to this set up and it becomes a very mobile and scalable model.

When it comes to connecting someone in a rural region online, you have to have durable products in mind. Products that have features like:

  • phones that hold charge for 2 weeks at a time
  • dust resistant—this is a must. If you’ve ever been in the bush, you know what I’m talking about.
  • integrated solar tech—simple recharge options, cheaper priced worked into the package (so for example, when you get a phone it comes complete with a solar charging packet). brck is an interesting application to look into.

As to any new application of technology, distribution will be key to the success of this project. Working with locals on the ground is critical to our organization’s success.

We call it ‘boots on the ground.'

If you’re trying to do anything on the ground in Africa, you must have boots on the ground. And this is even more relevant when it comes to rural solutions.

Stay tuned.

(photo via nasa)