Did you know that internet access is considered a basic human right by the United Nations?
Used to connect families, complete work, access vital supplies and gain education, the world wide web only becomes a more crucial aspect of daily life as technology improves.
Despite the UN’s best efforts, current estimates suggest that only 40% of people around the globe have access. Recognising the necessity of increasing that figure, research and development projects are underway around the world with the aim of providing faster, more reliable broadband to all corners of the earth.
From high-altitude balloons to unmanned solar-powered drones to outer-space, we’re about to see the best of what the tech world can offer when it comes to truly universal connectivity.
Interestingly enough, social media giant Facebook is behind one of the most advanced-stage options for a worldwide internet solution. The company’s Connectivity Lab tested a solar-powered drone in June 2016, with the eventual aim of carrying internet technology wherever it’s most needed.
With a wingspan as large as that of a passenger jet, the highly energy-efficient drone managed to stay in the air for 96 minutes. Future innovations will allow it to fly in a 60-mile radius, beaming high-powered wireless internet to the populations below it.
If an internet-enabled drone sounds unusual, then how about an internet-equipped balloon? Google’s original airborne connectivity project, Project Loon, began in 2013 with the aim to connect rural parts of Africa and Asia via a high-altitude balloon.
After three years and 19 million km of test flights, including one that remained aloft for 190 days, the balloons are currently capable of offering connection speeds of up to 10 Mbps direct from the stratosphere.
We all know that fibre-optic light provided the innovation for powerful superfast fibre broadband, but what else does the science of light have to offer the internet?
Recently a French startup began to answer that question with a wireless internet technology based on LEDs, capable of speeds up to 100 times faster than our current WiFi can offer.
Known as "Li-Fi", this remarkable technology relies on the virtually imperceptible flicker rate of LED lights to transmit wireless internet. As the frequency of LED flicker rate is significantly higher than the radio waves that traditional WiFi relies on, the speeds are a dramatic increase on what we’ve seen so far.
However, like light itself, Li-Fi is unable to pass through solid objects. As a portable or mobile option, however, the capabilities of LED offer a rich world of possibilities.
We have satellite radio and satellite TV, so where are we with satellite internet technology?
Samsung is the company taking us ever closer to this logical conclusion, with a proposal for a global network of 4,600 satellites. These spacecraft would rift in low-Earth orbit and offer up to 1 trillion gigabytes of internet every month.
While the project seems unlikely to happen in reality any time soon, the science behind it and the questions it brings up mean that scientists are constantly getting closer to a viable option for satellite-enabled internet.
Meanwhile, NASA has already deployed new technology to the International Space Station that allows internet service to penetrate deep space. This is good news for the distant future, as colonising distant galaxies will certainly be easier with a reliable internet connection!