Africa’s lag in the technology world faces several challenges, one being the continent’s lack of developed wireless spectrum. Google’s latest project aims to improve the wireless networks of various regions by launching blimps that will provide wireless connections over a variety of frequencies. Google explored the use of white spaces – unused TV broadcast frequencies – in South Africa to connect schools in a project it launched in March, but its newer, overarching plan would include using white spaces, non-TV frequencies, and satellite communication to broaden communications technology, according to reports.
A fleet of blimps bearing Google’s logo will serve as sky-high platforms for wireless signal communication. The blimps could skirt the challenges that arrive with traditional network installation – cost, for one. They could also alleviate a growing problem in parts of Africa for tech entrepreneurs: telecom providers grow discouraged at the high rate of physical internet cable theft, dissuaded from deploying and operating telecom services.
Expanding a continent’s internet coverage is no small feat, and will take years, but beginning with urban areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Southeast Asia, then moving into more rural regions is Google’s reported plan to make way for internet connectivity. The company has explored investments outside of its project in South Africa, too. After a conference in Zimbabwe, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, made note in early 2013 that the “internet in Africa will be primarily a mobile one,” and his company aims to bank on that development.
Developing wireless and internet connectivity in Sub-Saharan Africa serves Google’s business strategy to an obvious end as it is the world’s leading search engine, but it also paves the way for the company’s mobile penetration with its Android operating system and subsequent devices. Low-cost smartphones hosting Google’s OS are ideal for users in these emerging markets as cost has been a significant obstacle for the growth of smartphone adoption in Africa.
Sub-Saharan Africa is only projected to grow economically, and Google is not the only tech giant looking to get a slice of the pie in this market. While Google is seen as a growing networking force to be reckoned with (its Google Fiber project is rapidly expanding in the U.S.), equipment manufacturers and software makers alike – including heavy hitters like Microsoft — are building business as spectrum builds out across the continent. Regardless of who comes out on top, Google’s internet-bearing blimps herald a new experimental phase for internet deployment in regions just getting their feet wet in communications technology.