The world’s digital majors are increasingly looking at ways to deliver free web globally, and they are searching for new tech that can provide innovative solutions in this regard. Google is already considering investing up to $1 billion in Elon Musk’s SpaceX project, and is likely to seek out companies that can further this goal. Opportunities are therefore ripe for start-ups to receive financing or even a major exit for the right technology. Intellectual engineering hubs, back in the UK by Cambridge corporate finance, may become hotspots of space web solutions.
Providing Internet access from orbiting satellites, a concept that seemed to have died with the excesses of the dot-com boom, has returned thanks to SpaceX founder (and dot-com billionaire) Elon Musk. And while such a service would be expensive and risky to deploy, recent technological trends mean it’s no longer so out-of-this-world.
There are two elements to such initiatives. The first is focused on the business side.
Internet penetration in emerging markets is still less than a third of the population. In regions where telecom infrastructure is esp weak, like Africa, penetration is less than 20%. This amounts to a massive loss of billions of potential Internet users, who will otherwise be able to consume online services, drive traffic and clicks for digital companies.
The other element is a more humanitarian one. In many advanced economies, Internet access is being seen as a human right, and this philosophy is embraced by Silicon Valley majors. There is a sense that the Internet could resolve many problems in areas burdened by conflict, disease and corruption.
As a result, two entities have focused on potential global solutions to Internet access, Elon Musk and the Google corporation. Google has been sending weather balloons as a means of providing connectivity in Africa, while Musk has become an advocate of the satellite system that would circle earth and deliver the web worldwide via his aerospace company SpaceX.
The irony of Internet services is that they’re often most expensive in areas where incomes are particularly low. In the 2013 ICT Price Basket ranking, which measures telecom affordability, poor African and Asian countries typically face the highest costs for tariffs relative to their incomes.
Unfortunately, there are often few commercial incentives for operators to build infrastructure in areas where incomes are low, unless there is strong government support. Although tariffs are declining worldwide, the web remains a luxury for many homes.
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