Google blimps will carry wireless signal across Africa

googleblimpby Duncan Geere

Search giant Google is intending to build huge wireless networks across Africa and Asia, using high-altitude balloons and blimps.

The company is intending to finance, build and help operate networks from sub-Saharan Africa to Southeast Asia, with the aim of connecting around a billion people to the web.

To help enable the campaign, Google has been putting together an ecosystem of low-cost smartphones running Android on low-power microprocessors. Rather than traditional infrastructure, Google’s signal will be carried by high-altitude platforms – balloons and blimps – that can transmit to areas of hundreds of square kilometres.

Google has also considered using satellites to achieve the same goal. “There’s not going to be one technology that will be the silver bullet,” an unnamed source told the Wall St Journal. A Google spokesperson declined to comment.

Meanwhile, back on the ground, Google lobbyists are targeting regulators across developing countries to allow them to use airwaves currently reserved for television broadcasts – which operate at lower frequencies and can therefore penetrate buildings and travel longer distances than current WiFi technology.

Small-scale trials are underway in Cape Town, South Africa, where a base station is broadcasting signals to wireless access boxes in high schools over several kilometres. Software detects which areas of the spectrum aren’t being used for TV broadcast and can be used for the network at any given time.

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