TORONTO – Social media giant Facebook is the latest Internet company to announce a plan to help get more of the world’s population connected to the World Wide Web.
The partnership called Internet.org, announced on Wednesday, vows to develop a plan to make the Internet accessible to the two-thirds of the world who are not yet connected – about five billion people in total.
Alongside Facebook, the group also includes Korean electronics giant Samsung, Finnish handset maker Nokia and wireless chip maker Qualcomm Inc.
“Today, only 2.7 billion people are online — a little more than one third of the world. That is growing by less than 9 per cent a year, but that’s slow considering how early we are in the internet’s development,” read a blog post about the initiative titled, “Is connectivity a human right?”
The blog post goes on to say that Facebook believes that “everyone deserves to be connected” – but the question is how.
Internet.org in its current form is merely a “rough plan,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
But, Zuckerberg does suggest several methods in which Internet.org could help bring Internet to the corners of the world that exist without it; from network extension technology that would bridge wireless networks with in-house wired networks, to using “white space” spectrum to provide greater connectivity.
Other suggestions included developing cheaper smartphones and tools that would reduce the amount of data required to run apps – which is where partners like phone maker Ericsson and web browser developers Opera Software and MediaTek would come in handy.
But the outcomes of the project remain unclear.
“Like many long term technology projects, we expect the details to evolve. It may be possible to achieve more than we lay out here, but it may also be more challenging than we predict,” read Zuckerberg’s post.
“The specific technical work will evolve as people contribute better ideas, and we welcome all feedback on how to improve this.”
And Facebook isn’t the first to announce an ambitious plan to connect the world.
Internet giant Google began launching Internet-beaming antennas into the stratosphere aboard giant, jellyfish-shaped balloons in June with hopes to get the entire planet online.
Dubbed “Project Loon,” the initiative is designed to deliver Internet signals to areas where Internet access has been traditionally hard to get by floating these balloons in the stratosphere.
The balloons would be carried around the earth by winds; delivering connectivity to those with special antenna’s attached to their homes or buildings.
An experimental pilot of Project Loon was launched in two New Zealand towns in June. Since then Google has been testing the project and monitoring the balloons to see how well they work.
But, just like any experiment, Google has run into a few limitations in the technology along the way.
On August 8 Google tested one of the balloons in Fresno, Cali. to see how the balloons would interact over a city that has lots of radio signal noise which affects the ability to transmit Internet from the balloons.
“It turns out that providing Internet access to a busy city is hard because there are already many other radio signals around, and the balloons’ antennas pick up a lot of that extra noise,” read the update posted on Project Loon’s Google+ page.
“This increases the error-rate in decoding the Loon signal, so the signal has to be transmitted multiple times, decreasing the effective bandwidth.”
Google is now working to understand the balloon’s signal strength to figure out how to transmit in these areas properly.
They also experienced challenges with one of the balloons from the New Zealand pilot test. This balloon in particular was in flight for 11 days and 22 hours, travelling over 17,600 kilometers in total – the longest flight Google has recorded so far.
But this record-setting flight brought up another challenge for the project.
“One of the challenges of I-74’s long flight was the lack of sunlight at the far southern latitudes; it experienced only 5.5 hours of sunlight and 18.5 long hours of darkness each day,” read another update on the Google+ page.
“This was a challenge for the solar-powered batteries that allow each balloon to transmit signals, run the heater so the electronics don’t freeze, and change altitudes to navigate.”
As both projects remain in the early stages, it’s hard to say when (or if) we will be able to really consider the “World Wide Web” world wide.