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February 01, 2016

Project Skybender: Google's Vision for 5G Internet Delivered by Drones

Give Google credit for its forward thinking; while 5G itself is still largely in the testing and development phase, Google is already bringing it into a new delivery mechanism that is deeply innovative. The initiative is known as Project Skybender, and it might change the way Internet access is delivered.

Project Skybender—operating out of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico—is trying to use solar-powered drones to deliver 5G Internet access. The unmanned devices use millimeter-wave radio transmissions, commonly regarded as the basic starting point of 5G Wi-Fi as a whole. These signals could offer a throughput measured in gigabits of data per second, essentially spawning a new kind of Internet access that runs 40 times faster than 4G LTE currently does. Google has turned to unmanned devices to provide Internet access before with the previously-revealed Project Loon, which focused on balloons. Project Skybender seems to be the much more powerful version of Project Loon.

However, there's at least one problem stopping Project Skybender: millimeter waves don't stand up well to adverse weather conditions. Rain, snow, or even particularly heavy fog can tamper with the signal and make it unreliable, even useless. That's something that Google's already looking to beat, and it's not alone; other firms are also looking into better outcomes for millimeter waves.

This by itself might not mean so much, but when coupled with Google's other connectivity efforts, it's a disaster of epic proportions for many cable providers. 5G's capabilities are staggering; 5G network speed is defined as 20 Gbps by the International Telecommunications Union, and that's a lot of speed. Of course, we all know that speed by itself doesn't mean much if it's just a handy way to slam into your bandwidth cap that much faster, but we also know about Google's earlier developments in Google Fiber. Google Fiber offers up its speeds with unlimited access; even its basic package comes without bandwidth cap. If this development carries forward to Project Skybender, it may well be the cable company's worst nightmare: Google Fiber, without installation, in broad range and in every market. From the tiniest one-stoplight town to the biggest metroplex, anyone could cheaply connect to a Skybender drone's signal, and render cable companies with poor service out of the picture.

Project Skybender represents a huge opportunity for Google and its users. While it's not immediately clear if it will actually work out this way, Google's history suggests that Project Skybender could put a few cable companies out of business.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere

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