Flying Internet for the Unwired: How to Implement Sky-streaming Internet in the Developing World


  • Seong Cheol Kim, Professor, School of Media and Communication, Korea University, Republic of Korea


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In the 1990s, only about one percent of the world was connected to the internet. Today, however, roughly 40% of the entire global population has access to the internet. For the connected people, the internet has become an essential medium for communication, business, education, and many more functions of lives. However, this right is not afforded to everyone in the world. In fact, larger than four billion people are left in digital darkness. Despite the constant growing rate of global internet penetration, 54% of world’s 7.4 billion population still do not have access to basic internet service. Likewise, almost half of the world is currently offline and the situation is more extreme in the developing world.

Why aren’t major telecommunication companies expanding their market to those underserved communities where more than half of the potential customers are left unconnected? It is only a logical decision for the telecom operators not to invest much in building network infrastructures there. Through the conventional methods of connectivity from the telecom operators, it is going to be extremely costly and impractical for covering such large, disbursed locations. In addition, those rural communities in the developing world do not promise a high return on investment. In a nutshell, the conventional telecom operators have little incentives to start business for the developing world.

However, almost everyone would agree on the importance and the great impact that internet can bring to these four billions of world’s unconnected population. Also, global business players are aware that those unwired population can be a huge business opportunities someday if there is a proper technology that can reduce the cost and ensure the return of investment. In fact, several global IT companies have found ways in sky: the flying internet from the sky using the newest and most revolutionary forms of technologies. They claim that this innovation will extend internet connectivity in many remote regions around the world that are suffering from digital darkness.

This study aims to provide practical business and policy implications regarding the three types of sky-streaming internet technologies: balloon internet from Google, drone internet from Facebook, and low-earth orbiting satellite internet from a group-backed venture OneWeb. To be more specific, this study would first give a comprehensive guide and overall evaluation of the sky-streaming internet technologies to the developing countries’ national decision-making figures. Then, this study would also attempt to provide business implications to the sky-streaming internet service providers including Google, Facebook, and OneWeb: benefit, challenges, strategic guidelines will be presented.

Providing internet access to the billions of people unconnected is crucial for both society and business. Investigating on how to provide mobile internet service to people in the developing world and how it can positively contribute to the provider’s business is undoubtedly vital. Without a sustainable business model, the internet service will not be maintained because for them the internet service is not a philanthropic activity but rather an actual business that requires certain level of profits to sustain.

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