According to Om Malik and the WSJ:
Google is teaming up with Space Data Corp., a company that sends balloons carrying small (micro) base stations about 20 miles up in the air for providing connectivity to truckers and oil companies. The electronic payload is retrieved by farmers after it drifts back using a small parachute. The farmers do it because they get $100 per payload retrieved, WSJ says.Google believes balloons like these could radically change the economics of offering cellphone and Internet services in out-of-the-way areas, according to people familiar with its thinking.
If this is true, perhaps a similar low cost solution would do wonders to connect rural communities in the developing world. There is definitely a business case to bring down the cost of communication in Africa from fishermen in Tanzania to Farmers in India, to tele-medicine to education. Projects such as the much touted Africa ONE, aimed at connecting 32 countries, face too much bureaucracy to ever take off the ground and its time to rethink our approach.
Mobile communication is on the rise in much of Africa and South and Central Asia, but is generally restricted to the main grid and is prohibitively expensive. Investments by companies like Google and Space Data in localized communication technology, would greatly accelerate the integration of these communities to the Telecom grid.
As good friend worded it in a rare epiphany, “The last mile in telecommunications is just as important as the first”. Perhaps there are some solutions that already exist. Any ideas, people?
Interesting Fact: Africa is world’s fastest-growing cell phone market. From 1999 through 2004, the number of mobile subscribers in Africa jumped to 76.8 million, from 7.5 million, an average annual increase of 58 percent. By the end of the decade, that’s expected to double.