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Google blimps will carry wireless signal across Africa (wired.co.uk)
204 points by richeyrw on May 27, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 115 comments

This is the greatest innovation since Virtudyne's "The Digital Donkey" [1] — which is a parody of SimIndiana [2]. There really have been donkey cart driven libraries. [3]

Of course, there really have been projects that used balloons in the upper atmosphere. It is actually difficult to maintain a balloon at a constant altitude in the upper atmosphere because you have to account for daily temperature variation and changing wind patterns. The most famous project of this sort was Project Mogul[4], which attempted to put a balloon in the atmosphere's analogue of the SOFAR channel to listen for anything that sounded like a nuclear test in the Soviet Union. One of the Project Mogul balloons crash landed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. The government's cover story was that it was a "weather balloon", which of course, it wasn't. But it wasn't an alien spaceship, either.

[1]: http://thedailywtf.com/Articles/Virtudyne_0x3a__The_Digital_...

[2]: http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/newsroom/press/2004/040707b.html

[3]: http://archive.ifla.org/V/press/pr0225-02.htm

[4]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Mogul

And so it begins.

There is a new age coming, one where we realise surveillance is ubiquitous and more importantly carries benefits for us as well as loss of what we thought of as privacy.

This is probably a good thing. These blimps will not be the last of atmospheric and LEO orbitals that will criss cross the globe and provide always-on services we suddenly cannot live without.

We do need to manage who holds and uses information that relates to us personally, but in the end our children will always know where they and their friends are, will be able to look at any point on the globe instantly (want to see the giraffe running across the Serengeti right now) and the losses, well, we will deal with them. The benefits are going to be huge.

Tim Berners-Lee, look what you started.

Why are you assuming this is automatically a surveillance tool? It's not a drone with the explicit intent to search for something. It's a way to get Internet to people.

I am not using surveillance as "bad things governments spy on us with" but "side effects of joining billions of people to humanities central nervous system" - all of a sudden the clues and inferences about our lives that previously could only be gleaned by our neighbours (when we left the house, with whom) are on an electronic bulletin board and available to almost anyone who cares to look.

If this takes off, wifi repeaters and solar charging stations will appear in villages and towns, and guess what with that detail each user will hand over position, time and search information - every drop able to glean more about them than the secret polices best efforts.

Our only hope is it is like rain - it surveils the just and unjust alike

High resolution ground photography and mobile location tracking came to mind.

Google often cooperates with government and police.

> Google often cooperates with government and police.

Next you're going to tell me that they're considered a legal entity in many countries.

You read my mind.

Government and police are already logging the net. If you think you have any privacy online you haven't been paying enough attention.

They are. And it turned out to be a huge failure, at least here [0].

In any case, you'll have a lot more privacy if you stop using Google services.

[0] http://techpresident.com/news/wegov/23918/denmark-government...

Isn't it a bit much to give Berners-Lee credit for this? I was with you up to that point. :)

He was definitely an important step in getting to this point. The WWW is what made the internet mainstream. That and ICQ.

If he hadn't taken that step, somebody else would a bit later. Even Microsoft tried to do their thing.

Microsoft tried to compete with Novell Netware, which was strictly focused on internal corporate network services. it was only much later that Bill Gates noticed the internet and WWW. But if the WWW hadn't existed, most likely MS would have followed the path of AOL and CompuServe, creating a walled garden for subscribers-only. It's unlikely that any corporation would have created the open web like TBL did.

I suspect it will be more mobile internet than desktops - you do have to realise that these dayse the African economy practically runs on mobile phones, and land lines are uncommon to nonexistent. I wonder how that changes the way they'll use internet access.

Speaking of how society uses the internet, I traveled through Ghana for four weeks last year and I heard that one of the reasons internet cafes aren't really wanted in smaller towns in Ghana is that people worried about it corrupting their youth, and not in the way you think: they worry about their children getting involved with the 419'ers[1].

And I must admit, I did see a lot of scammers in the smaller cafes, mostly teenage boys, often a few of them working together. Once I even witnessed a really well organised romance scam[2]: some would be setting up fake dating profiles, looking for pretty pictures of scantilly clad African women, some would be chatting with unsuspecting victims, pretending to be some kind of mail-order African bride (who sadly had a broken webcam), discussing how best to bait the victim, and there actually was a guy "managing" the whole group. It was crazy how coordinated the whole effort was.

Before this gets misinterpreted: I'm not saying you can't trust Africans who are online, obviously - most of them will be people with a higher education and internet at home or the university. I guess the problem with these small internet cafes is that the most likely early adopters are these 419'ers.

Anyway, I wonder how getting internet access to everyone will impact all of this. Maybe it will force the local governments to really start taking the problem seriously.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigerian_scam

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_scam

Even with your "Before this gets misinterpreted" sentence, your post is essentially saying: "Oh yes, well, internet in Africa would be nice, but those Africans, you know, they mainly use the internet to try to scam people in the first world". As such it is inaccurate, smug, racist and ignorant, and reflects an implicit assumption that the world should be organized so that it is benign to the interests of affluent westerners.

I think that's a bit harsh; at least, I didn't interpret his anecdote as such. I've spent some time in West Africa, but not much in internet cafes and none in Nigeria (or Ghana, for that matter). I never saw anything like what he described, so I appreciated the anecdote.

Basically, I took his observations as more an honest description than a judgement. Your accusations of "inaccurate" and "ignorant" beg the question; are you speaking from a point of superior knowledge on the matter?

My comment was certainly aggressive, but intentionally so. That person's response to a discussion of increased internet access for Africans was to talk about the problem of spam email. I think I could have been harsher.

> are you speaking from a point of superior knowledge on the matter?

That seems to imply that you are in doubt about the truth value of the following proposition: `Africans mainly use the internet to scam people in the first world`.

The guy even said "most of the Internet users will be of higher education", he did nothing to imply that the majority of the users are scammers. That's all you putting words in his mouth.

If he's demonstrating racism, you're demonstrating white guilt. I don't even know either of your races, but I think that statement adequately highlights the absurdness of your claim.

If scamming is not a significant proportion of Ghanaian internet activity then why is it even being mentioned in a discussion about increasing internet access across sub-Saharan Africa?

"White guilt"? Would you care to expand? Guilt which causes me to ignore the problem of pesky Africans using the internet to scam honest folk in rich countries?

> As such it is inaccurate, smug, racist and ignorant, and reflects an implicit assumption that the world should be organized so that it is benign to the interests of affluent westerners.

I understand why you read it that way, but you couldn't be more wrong about what I think about Africa. As rattray mentioned: I wasn't judging them, just making an observation of how things are there.

Your interpretation of my standpoint is kind of ironic: I was born in Ghana, lived there the first four years of my life. I feel more of a connection to Africa than to my supposed roots in China (I'm half Chinese too), and I hated growing up in the Dutch countryside. While I was visiting my birthcountry for the first time in 25 years, it was the visiting Westerners that pissed me off. They were always complaining about being treated disrespectfully, and refused to see how their insistence of interpreting situations through a Western lens plays a huge role in all the misunderstandings.

So this is getting very off-topic, but let's talk for a minute about white folks not "getting" Ghana, as I understand and experienced it. There's plenty of things, but I'll focus on the wealth sharing issue.

First of all, if you are wealthier, in the local traditional culture it is perfectly acceptable to be asked or expected to share the wealth. Not in the form of money (more on that later), but material wealth, or "spontaneously" paying for something they need. Of course, there's a difference between actually being rich and being perceived as such - and by the way, the locals suffer from this more than we do: "hey cousin, you moved to the city so you're rich now and can support your family in the countryside, right?" Well no, but try telling your family that. It's hard to get a break in Ghana, because as soon as you do everyone wants a piece of the pie (and don't get me started on Ghanaian funerals, if there's one example of a tradition being warped and now bankrupting families...[1]).

You have to realize that if you're from the West, you are considered rich by definition, so you have to mentally be ready for constantly being asked for support. It's tiring, but it's not like you can blame them. From our point of view it might feel like reverse-racism, but look at it from their perspective: you can afford a plane ticket (return ticket even) and taking a few weeks/months off of earning money and going on holiday - how rich do you have to be for that? Just because Weber-Fechner[2] fools you into not feeling rich back home doesn't mean you're not.

Where things go sour is that if you say no, which is perfectly fine, you're supposed to do so with an excuse, so that the person asking doesn't lose face: "I'm sorry, I can't give you my sunglasses, they're the only ones I have." Business and social life are not separated there. Because most Westerners instead feel like being hustled, or are just tired of the never-ending stream of requests, they just bluntly reject the haggler, resulting in him/her feeling insulted and going "well, screw you too then." So the next time they'll just be more rude and blunt like the Westerners, which can result in this weird cycle of everyone slightly pissing off everyone. If you don't know how to haggle respectfully and understand the social component (and it takes a while before you "get it"), you will be hustled disrespectfully in return. Luckily there's some locals who "get" Westerners and are capable of bridging this.

Also, there's a clear correlation between how bad this Western/local culture clash has corroded things and how close to the capitol you are: the closer, the more bluntly the people will ask you for money.

Another communication breakdown example: if you stay over at a family, traditionally they would insist you don't have to pay them. Not because they actually mean that, but because you don't discuss money exchanges out in the open - everyone will want a piece of the pie and they might end up with less than what they started with. The exchange happens discretely when nobody is watching, and you have to 'spontaneously' offer it, sometimes insisting on it a few times (although these days nobody is that naive towards Westerners anymore). Also, a Ghanaian will not tell you to your face that he thinks badly of you - you kind of have to infer that indirectly from others.

So more than once this has resulted in a Western family leaving without paying, thinking "wow, those Ghanians are so generous!", while the Ghanaian family thinks "those disrespectful jerks exploited us!" resulting in them being blunt and openly "Western" (as they interpret it) towards the next family. And then that family will be openly pissed off and haggle about payment (remember: in Ghana, you never dismiss someone to his face, and are supposed do the haggling indirectly/implicitly by giving excuses so the receiving party's social status isn't compromised - things are never "just business" there). So in the end, the local family is even more insulted and the tourists are pissed off and stay away.

More than a few local tourism initiatives have failed because of this. These days, the successful tourist villages have a tourist center, where you pay for the whole experience of staying in that village at once, and everyone in the village gets a share later (again, secretively).

What pisses me off is that every other visitor I met (implicitly) complained about how the Ghanaians weren't more like us, and more than once I've started an angry rant towards them that fell on deaf ears. No, that's now how it works: we're the visitors, so it's our responsibility to understand the Ghanaian point of view. And they actually have a point in their judgement of us being rich. Not that we should accept being treated as walking fountains of cash, but the "it's unfair, it's not like I have endless supplies of money just because I'm white!" gut reaction is very short-sighted, as it's also unfair that we were lucky enough to be born in an economically privileged position. Think of it as an investment in the local economy, an actually working trickle down effect. Yes, it can be tiresome, but you should have done your homework and realize what you were getting into when you went there. As long as it's no too blatantly disrespectful, and you know how to talk your way out of ridiculous requests with a bit of humor, it's all fine.

BTW, this is generalized of course: Ghana is full of different ethnicities and cultures, and things differ from place to place. I had a wonderful time being "back home", and in my experience most of the annoyances could be attributed to past miscommunications souring things as explained above.

So anyway, back to my original post: it's the local population that is hesitant to pick up internet, because they associate it with Nigerian scams and their reputation being smudged. I'm repeating what I was told by them, and was just being curious how this easy access to internet will change things and how the local cultures will adopt it. Also, if you really want to know more about this issue: "Invisible Users, Youth in the internet Cafés of Urban Ghana" by Jenna Burrel[3]. Just picked up my own copy the other day, still have to start reading it, but based on the blurb it seems to mirror my own experiences.

[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/07/ghana-call-frida...

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/12/nyregion/12funerals.html?p...

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weber%E2%80%93Fechner_law

[3] https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/invisible-users

Thanks, that was an excellent discussion of the problems of being a rich visitor in a less rich country! And thanks also for such a calm response to my hostility.

The reason I was critical is that it is poor judgement to bring up the cliche of "Nigerian scams" when discussing something as important as attempts to spread internet availability in sub-saharan Africa. Now, I understand that to some extent you were making a point about how Ghanaian society views internet scamming. But still, it seems to be saying that "Nigerian scams" are a problem (a cost) that we should consider when planning to increase internet availability in Africa. Is the proportion of Ghanaians using the internet for that sort of activity really so large as to merit even discussing it? And anyway, Europeans and Americans make substantial use of the internet for child abuse and to support abusive areas of the global pornography industry; should we consider that as a disincentive for improving internet technology for Europeans and Americans?

> I guess the problem with these small internet cafes is that the most likely early adopters are these 419'ers.

> Anyway, I wonder how getting internet access to everyone will impact all of this. Maybe it will force the local governments to really start taking the problem seriously.

The question here is "problem for whom"? I appreciate your response and explanation that you were making observations about phenomena in Ghanaian society but I still think these sentences are dramatically missing the big picture: we're talking about increasing internet access across sub-Saharan Africa. Something which could radically improve the standards of life of hundreds of millions of some of the poorest people on the planet. It's just not the time to talk about "Nigerian scams" -- a phenomenon which is at worst a minor #firstworldproblem.

> And thanks also for such a calm response to my hostility.

Well, it was understandable hostility because I fogot to give the proper context, and then it's easy to misinterpret what I intend to discuss. So also my responsibility to fix the miscommunication (seems to be a theme here... :P).

> It's just not the time to talk about "Nigerian scams" -- a phenomenon which is at worst a minor #firstworldproblem.

Ah, but there our communication still goes astray: I completely agree that it's a minor #firstworldproblem. I was wondering about it's influence as a #thirdworldproblem - "corrupting the youth," ruining local perception of the internet and getting in the way of its adoption for other purposes. To quote tomjen in a separate response: "we don't need people with the morality of 419's to destroy the start-up ecosystem."

I'm not completely sure how much the rank and file scammers earn over there, but if I recall correctly, it was 1200 $ (or was it 400?)per month for some very basic ordering from Walmart using cracked credit card type of affairs. I had this conversation a couple of months ago with a guy that tried applying to my school (wrong one), and asked me for advice. I pointed him to the university he was actually trying to apply to, and I asked him what he does for work.

Compared to their rough average wage of 120$ or so monthly (I haven't been able to find quite credible sources on this, so if I'm wrong, correct me), that sounds really good.

So they were running a little internet startup. Perhaps instead of trying to segregate them from the internet, we could make use of their entrepreneurial spirit?

Oh, absolutely! I loved their ingenuity, it's just too bad it's spent on scamming. I don't think I ever implied they shouldn't have internet access, just that the locals are hesitant about adopting it, so I'm not sure where you got that from. My question is how these guys can be guided away from the scamming and towards more productive business practices.

And I don't think you can't really blame them in their position: the scams work, and from their point of view probably feel victimless: it's white collar crime since nobody gets physically beaten up, and all white people are rich so they can miss the money.

Honestly we don't need people with the morality of 419's to destroy the start-up ecosystem.

> I guess the problem with these small internet cafes is that the most likely early adopters are these 419'ers.

Problem for whom?

Do these teens have access to tech training/education in theses areas?

That image of the Google blimp almost looks like the logo was photoshopped on. Any way to tell if that's real or not?

Yep, I think it's photoshopped: http://www.flickr.com/photos/isafmedia/4995227882/

I find it mildly amusing that one can use Google's search by image to find the real photo:


No journalistic integrity at Wired, I guess.

Because they photoshopped a stock image??? Seriously? You understand how journalism and blogging works, right?

Photoshopping an image and not captioning it as an "artist's concept" or something similar is absolutely a violation of traditional journalistic integrity.

This is not a picture of a "Google Blimp." It's not even a picture of a blimp in Africa.

That picture is not a free-flying blimp, but an Army aerostat (tethered balloon). About 10 are used to enforce the southern US border.


Oh, the irony...


They used the image of a tethered balloon to depict one that would be wireless :)

Ah, thanks! I chuckled :D

The real crime here is that awful photoshop job...

Wired should have just posted an abstract sketch, something that says "blimp" but is clearly not pretending to be a "GBlimp".

And it's funny because Wired.com (not co.uk) used it in an article before. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/03/army-wants-spy-blimp...

Sorry for the plug (if a not-for-profit campaign a friend is doing to build a school in Ethiopia is considered a plug) but this will help this school (if it gets built) get also internet


Ok, wow, either I didn't get the article, or I got really misunderstood here, anyone cares to mention why this is so downvoted? is it the off topic plug? is it my choice of wording? Did I miss a major point in the article? Did I say something really stupid? (if so my apologies, and will be nice if you point out what exactly)

All in all it's a real nice charity project from someone I know, and I get nothing from it, not sure what's so wrong with a little good intentions.

Don't worry too much about downvotes. People have become more trigger happy in the last three years (or so).

This article comes pretty close to plagiarizing the source article it's based on - http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142412788732397500457850...

This is so much more awesome than Glass, it defies description.

So is Google a carrier in these locales? Net net this is a Good Thing™ for access in Africa. Unfortunately soon Google and other carriers like them will be asked to implement all sorts of nasty filtering, censoring and generally anti-privacy tomfoolery. How will this play with their base back home in the good 'ole US of A? Recall how Yahoo got lambasted here for their cooperation with China. And they weren't even a carrier.

My girlfriend just asked a question that had not even occurred to me: what happens during a storm? I am sure Google's engineers have a way to handle that, but I am genuinely curious about what their solution is.

Similarly, will it float so low that it could be shot down with a gun or missile?

To avoid these two risks (storm and attack), I imagine it'd have to be at an altitude above weather currents and beyond shooting range... or be able to stabilize during a storm and be bulletproof.

Weather can be a problem for airships. Their max airspeed can be much less than what's needed to maintain station in a strong wind. The US navy also gave up on (manned) airships in the 20s after big storms would bring them down with loss of life.

If you don't mind that they get blown downwind sometimes, or that sometimes you have to ground them, or you just use them mostly during good weather or good seasons, or if they crash and you only lose equipment not people on board, then blimps can be viable.

Some parts of Africa might not even see a lot of seriously adverse weather.

It's clear, especially considering that these are meant to fly in some unstable countries in central Africa, that certain parties will be trying to attack these blimps.

What kind of defenses to you think the blimps will have to defend against these strikes? Some sort of armor plating on the underside would seem to be the minimum. Hopefully they'll be equipped with some offensive capabilities as well to combat and dissuade guerrilla and terrorist acts.

Or would it make more sense to just use expendable blimps, like a $10 balloon and a $20 router?

You can put a suprising amount of holes in a low pressure blimp/zeppelin before it becomes a problem. Unlike party balloons, they don't "pop". Armoring them against the occasional small arms fire is probably not worth it (the extra weight would probably cause more overall loss of buoyancy than the occasional hole.)

> Hopefully they'll be equipped with some offensive capabilities as well to combat and dissuade guerrilla and terrorist acts.

Um ... Google drones are the last thing we need. Enough problems with the military ones already.

Yeah, you have to think that was a joke, right? Can you imagine the headlines, "Google Drone kills 7 on Somali border"

We're discussing this a bit downthread-- in my opinion it's not a realistic threat. To kill a blimp at a couple of km you would need a modern ground-to-air missile (and know how to use it), or mass small arms fire of similar expense. It wouldn't be a good investment for a poor warlord, you'd only need to worry about organized military or other very well-financed organizations.

Wouldn't shooting down one of these constitute attacking a comercial aircraft of american origin? I think the implications of that would rule out organized military or other very well-financed organizations unless they are run by lunatics. But I've never attacked commercial us aircraft, so if anyone has experience with it...

Unlike satellites the airspace where the blimp would fly would be in the territorial area of the country in question so they would have every right to make it turn away or force it down.

Of course the warlords who might actually control some parts of these countries wouldn't have that ability nor would they care about shooting it down.

The obvious thing to do would be to fly the balloon above the weather. That would also let you cover more area. The choice becomes whether to have regular launch/recovery at jet stream levels, or to go above it.

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-altitude_airship it seems that the technology exists to put an airship above the jet stream and keep it in place for a long time. I don't know if that is their solution, but it would make a lot of sense.

I am not an expert but I would guess that they would ground the blimp and secure it.

What happens when local militants/vandals shoot them down?

I don't know what altitude they'd fly at, but this quote from the Wikipedia article on Airships says:

"In November 2006, the U.S. Army bought an A380+ airship from American Blimp Corporation through a Systems level contract with Northrop Grumman and Booz Allen Hamilton. The airship started flight tests in late 2007, with a primary goal of carrying 2,500 lb (1,100 kg) of payload to an altitude of 15,000 ft (4,600 m) under remote control and autonomous waypoint navigation."

So it's perfectly possible for these things to typically fly a few kilometres above the ground. That is outside the range of small arms: the furthest confirmed sniper kill to date was at a range of 1,250 m.

So while it would certainly be possible for someone to shoot one of these airships down using aircraft or guided missiles, they would not be able to with small arms fire. Except during takeoff and landing, of course.

I'd quibble. While I agree it wouldn't be vulnerable in practice, I don't think the longest sniper kill is relevant at all. A battle rifle caliber can definitely break 10,000 feet fired straight up. The issue would be whether it has enough energy left to penetrate the skin of the blimp, and whether it winds up anywhere near where you aimed at.

They're definitely not at risk to the odd potshot, but massed small arms/crew-served rifle fire could potentially be effective in the lower altitudes.

> That is outside the range of small arms: the furthest confirmed sniper kill to date was at a range of 1,250 m.

Also keep in mind that snipers are shooting at humans. That's a much, much harder target than a blimp.

Well it'd be ten times as large in your scope, but I don't think I'd call it an "easier target"-- you have to deal with a much more dramatic arc and unknowable atmospheric wind conditions.

Then you keep firing until you hit it.

Yup, that's exactly the idea with massed fire. If you can't hit a point target, just designate it an area target and get enough rounds together to be effective on the entire area. When it comes to taking down a blimp with a round that barely has the energy to get there, though, I imagine that number of rounds is measured in thousands at least. Less of "keep firing" and more of "we're gonna need a lot of guys".

And also don't forget the numbers I'm using suggest this is only plausible if you're firing more or less straight up, meaning the area you're ultimately targeting is where you are.

Local militants/vandals then lose access to the internet - and hopefully get reprimanded by the other folks of the area. Hopefully said militants/vandals would be more willing to use the services (maybe even to further their own nefarious goals) than destroy them.

They'd probably find more value in the general populace not having access to the rest of the world.

I believe the blimps would be above the cloud layer.

So Google gets hammered in several jurisdictions by driving a car with cameras around and now they are planning a blimp? I'm sure an intermediate cell network in disaster zones but full time RF surveillance? Why would a country agree to that?

This story seems very thinly sourced. I'm having trouble verifying it through reports in more reliable media outlets. The blog post by Google linked from the article doesn't have the same speculation that the article submitted here has.

As someone posting from rural Malawi on a perfectly fine internet connection based on the cellular network, why blimps?

I wonder if they've heard of these guys: http://ahumanright.org. They had an interesting, albeit somewhat quixotic-sounding, campaign to buy a satellite (TerreStar-1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TerreStar-1) for the same purpose. Unfortunately, the satellite was sold before they could raise enough money, but it looks like they're still around and contemplating ideas.

I thought when they hired Eric Brewer as VP of Infrastructure it was for his general CAP and high-scalability expertise. Maybe they hired him for his experience bringing wireless internet to developing nations / the third world...or both!


Now AFRICOM won't need to buy more bandwidth from china…

Does broadcasting an unwanted wireless internet across a nation's borders count as an act of war? If the US broadcast open Wi-Fi across North Korea's or China's borders, they would be unhappy. Something like Radio Free Europe.

Too bad mesh networking hasn't got off the ground in a big way (?). Couldn't individuals hoist weather balloons with mesh transmitters and build these sorts of networks bottom-up?

South Africa's digital TV migration has been held up for a few years, for various depressing, third-world reasons. Google seems to have found a workaround, according to the article, by detecting unused parts of the spectrum. Perhaps that's what will replace the "digital-TV dividend" in SA.

I wonder if they're taking precautions against the blimps being shot down.

Contrary to (popular?) opinion most of Africa is not a warzone. With extremely few exceptions (Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo), most of Sub-Saharan Africa is in the middle of an extended period of peace.

It's inconceivable that if ever deployed, any of these blimps will be interfered with in the airspaces of East Africa (aside from Somalia) or over any country south of them.

People were shooting drones in the US[1]; you don't to assume a warzone to consider it a risk.

[1] http://www.suasnews.com/2012/11/19719/activists-drone-shot-o... (Yes, the drone may have been above private grounds; so probably will the blimps)

The US is also notoriously high-density in guns and the will to fire them; many of its inhabitants do indeed believe they live in a warzone.

It'd be rather more difficult than that to take out a high-altitude blimp with small arms. One hesitates to say impossible, but it's wildly unlikely without organized military involvement.

Hmmm . . . possible connection to http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5754619 ?

I'm curious, are there any plans to work with local providers? It would be a shame for African telcoms lose out to Google.

We need to design a phone that is cheap enough and runs on distributed wireless power + massive P2P Internet.

Doesn't using TV signals or satellite require special hardware that doesn't come on cheap android phones?

yes. these blimps must be providing links between APs on the ground, not direct connections to users.

The article is fairly light on technical details, however the signals will probably be some manner of 3G (or even LTE).

> the signals will probably be some manner of 3G (or even LTE).

That contradicts the details that are in the article: "Google lobbyists are targeting regulators across developing countries to allow them to use airwaves currently reserved for television broadcasts - which operate at lower frequencies and can therefore penetrate buildings and travel longer distances than current WiFi technology." It looks like it will depend on access points that serve as routers.

What is the rest of the world doing with these old analog TV bands? Is that part of the spectrum already exploited by cell carriers?

In related news, Larry Page now demands to be addressed as "Father Comstock" when in the GooglePlex.

In the areas where these blimps will be deployed, there almost certainly hasn't been the same discussions of privacy, tracking, corporate abuse, data breaches and perils of giving personal information out on the web nor the 20 years of background to go with it. You don't suppose Google will be educating the future web users to protect themselves from Google, do you?

There haven't been many serious discussions about privacy or tracking in the US either. The only exceptions might be health data and some financial data, yet much of that information could probably be mined to, using data on purchases and online activity.

Here's [1] just one example of the type of thing that is easily possible. It meant that if you bought a new high end car during the last campaign you were likely to receive a direct mail solicitation for campaign contribution from one or both of the presidential candidates. Maybe that is good or maybe it is bad, but there have been few serious discussions, and during recent years the Supreme Court has declined to recognize most notions of any rights to privacy.

[1] http://buxtonco.com/industry-solutions/political/

I honestly don't care if they do. Users of this service come out ahead without them doing so. It puts them in a better place to gain experience about these issues and learn how to protect themselves moving forward.

Seems to me users would have access to the same Internet as you or me. They will be able to read about these issues, just the same as we can.

Access to the same internet. Yes. But we were introduced to the internet when Google wasn't "evil" as some people say it is today.

Africa will be bigger than both India and China combined. There are whole cities waiting to be built. Check out the Solow growth model: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoclassical_growth_model

The entire population of Africa is less than the population of India or China, and far below the two of them combined.

That's the point. Massive growth is coming. Africa will round off the population of the planet.

Something for the sheep standing on Zanzibar to look up at.

Well, I appreciate a good John Brunner callback.

Now, if we could get them to feature NFL games :P

Only Google...

Pretty sure google should deploy wifi blimps to south/north Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, etc. before throwing resources at African wifi.

I guess google plans to inherit Nigerian family fortunes and such and only needs the coms infrastructure to obtain it.

The aggregate population of the states that you mention have is approximately 16.5 million.

The impact of those 16.5 million people coming online (if, as you claim, they currently don't have adequate access) is almost trivial compared to the impact these non-traditional internet connections could have for on the order of 1 billion people.

I suppose you were just being snarky, but I (and Eric Schmidt https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqfC0l3W0B4) think this project could have a massive impact on the state of the internet.

> etc. before throwing resources at African wifi.

They're helping to expand existing markets and creating new markets. African mobile telephony is a success story.

Downvoted because your comment consists of an unsubstantiated assertion followed by a dismissive slur.

Assertion? Do explain your authority on Africa to me.

As someone who has family in Africa, right now, and more going within a month, I am confident in my assertion that Africa is a failed continent.

Everyone on earth has tried to civilize, ahem, "bring online" Africa and failed beyond resource extraction. It is a money pit and there are no rules.

There is significant precedence for failure if you open any history book. It is arrogant to think you can influence anything meaningful there. Show some humility and invest in your own back yard where you have a slightly higher chance of making a meaningful impact.

> Assertion? Do explain your authority on Africa to me. As someone who has family in Africa, right now...

If we're making comparisons of experience I lived in Africa for over 30 years. But that's not relevant. Changing the subject from substance to authority is not a good sign: appeal to authority is a logical fallacy for a reason.

But " I lived in Africa" is not right. Africa is big and diverse. Nobody lives in a continent, they live in a city in a country, and statements like "Africa is a failed continent" are too vague to even be wrong. They cannot be founded in anything other than blind prejudice.

Large parts of Africa are developing rapidly ( http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21572773-pride-africas... http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/01/11/sorry_but_a... http://www.vice.com/read/is-this-the-century-of-africas-rise...), and technologies like this could help - not just help, could be profitable commercial ventures.

> I am confident in my assertion

What I meant was, citation needed. More assertions of the same are not needed.

I couldn't care less if these blimps are deployed to Dakota, Wyoming, and other parts of America as well. Maybe it makes economic sense for google to do it there as well. But google has done the math and determined that it makes sense to do this in parts of Africa, and for some strange reason they aren't dissuaded by random afro-pessimist commenters on hn.

You don't know what you're talking about. What were you doing in Africa for 30 years...drinking on beaches in Cape Town??

Here is why it is COMPLETELY stupid to put wifi blimps in Africa. LOL


According to you, it shouldn't matter where I was in Africa since the whole continent is "failed". If you now think that the blimps should be over the beaches (and shanty-towns...) of Cape Town, but not the red dots in the conflict zones, then you've changed your mind about that.

The nearest red dot looks like it's over 2000 km from Cape Town. Nothing within 1000s of km of all of Nigeria. There are huge markets there. etc. etc.

> if you open any history book. It is arrogant to think you can influence anything meaningful there.

On the contrary, if you read any history book, you'll most likely realize the wonders of human progress, achievement, and optimism. The only arrogant conclusion to draw from that would be to underestimate human potential. Luckily, progress has historically come about thanks to the dismissal of such conservative presuppositions.

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