Confirming its position as a leader in internet technology, Google’s newest experiment aims to beam 5G internet from solar drones. Project Sunbender, developed by the same folks behind Project Loon, promises to transmit the fastest internet speeds from space using a millimeter wave-based signal, which is similar to the technology used in airport security scanners. The project has reportedly already begun testing the technology at Virgin Galactic’s Gateway to Space terminal at Spaceport America in New Mexico. Until recently, Project Sunbender was top secret, but Google isn’t hiding it anymore.
The solar drones will use millimeter waves to transmit data, in part because they are believed to be up to 40 times faster than LTE (also known as 4G). However, millimeter wave technology does come with some drawbacks that Google’s brainiacs will have to science their way around. Millimeter wave transmissions tend to fade after just a short distance, so beaming internet all the way from space will be quite a challenge.
Part of the Project Sunbender experiment will obviously focus on overcoming the distance restrictions of the millimeter wave transmissions, but diverging from LTE technology could prove to be a big benefit because it ventures into a new spectrum with little traffic. University of Washington professor Jacques Rudell told The Guardian that “[t]he huge advantage of millimeter wave is access to new spectrum because the existing cellphone spectrum is overcrowded. It’s packed and there’s nowhere else to go.”
Google currently has permits from the FCC to continue testing into July of this year, using a solar-powered drone called Solara 50 made by Titan Aerospace, which Google purchased back in 2014.
Images via Google Titan