Google 'Project SkyBender' to Beam 5G Internet Using Drones

James Vance
J. Vance|02.03.16

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James Vance
February 3rd, 2016
Google 'Project SkyBender' to Beam 5G Internet Using Drones
If a report in the Guardian is anything to go by, the world's largest tech company Google is secretly testing the possibility of using solar-powered drones to beam high-speed internet from the sky at rates over 40 times that of traditional cell towers. The company is reportedly carrying out the tests in a vast private spaceflight site in New Mexico to determine the feasibility of using drones to bring unmatched internet speeds to remote areas in a project dubbed 'SkyBender.'

According to the report published in the Guardian, Project SkyBender uses transceivers designed to transmit and receive high-frequency millimeter wave radio signals which can possibly transmit data at a rate of gigabits per second, as fast as 40 times the current speeds of 4G LTE cell towers. This high-frequency transmission system has in the past been proposed as a part of the future 5G standard.

The millimeter wave data transmission technology has the potential to transmit more data and operate optimally in the less crowded section of the spectrum because it uses higher radio wave frequencies. This means that more people in far-flung areas with data-hungry devices such smartphones and tablets may soon be able to stream high definition videos hassle-free and without buffering.

How Google is Equipping its Test Teams

Project SkyBender is the latest of the numerous efforts that tech companies have launched in the recent past to improve Internet accessibility in rural and poor areas across the world. Previous proposed and tested projects included Google's Project Loon that uses balloons to beam LTE signals, Elon Musk's Space Internet that would network satellites orbiting earth to provide satellite Internet, and Facebook's Internet Drone project that is much like the Google SkyBender Drone project.
Google seems to be well-positioned and adequately prepared to carry out a range of tests using solar-powered drones made at its own Titan arm as well as aircraft known as Centaur that can be manned or unmanned. The tech giant acquired exclusive permission to use the vast semi-desert area and Spaceport America runways at previously used by Virgin Atlantic. According to documents acquired by the Guardian, Google has set up a dedicated flight control centre at the adjacent Spaceflight Operations Centre.

Transmission Technology Has Been Tested by DARPA Before

Google is not the first company to attempt to use millimeter wave technology to transmit digital signals; back in 2014, Pentagon's research division DARPA supposedly tested how the transmission system could be used to provide high-speed Internet for soldiers in remote locations in a program called Mobile Hotspots. Google has consent to carry out millimeter wave transmission technology tests from the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) through July. The technology promises to solve a myriad of issues such as poor Wi-Fi signals in remote areas. The drones involved are a lot different from the quadcopters and hexacopters that have become extremely popular in recent years with both the public and businesses.

Considering that more and more people around the world are increasingly relying entirely on smartphones and tablets to access information on the internet, largely due to the high costs of broadband, drone-transmitted connectivity such as SkyBender promises to provide a better alternative to end users without forcing them to invest in new hardware. However, because the Google SkyBender Drone project is in its early testing phase, it is difficult to estimate whether it is feasible, and if so, when it will roll out and who will be expected to pay for the service.
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