Cabling the world to spread internet access is an expensive and time consuming process, especially when taking to the skies for wireless coverage is far easier. That's why Google, Facebook and now Elon Musk's SpaceX are all heading towards the stars to setup systems that should cover the globe in internet connectivity.
Until recently it's been Facebook and Google taking all the headlines for pioneering bringing internet coverage to all areas of the globe. Now Elon Musk has confirmed that his SpaceX company will sending be satellites into space to create an internet offering of its own.
So in this modern space race who's doing what and how will it affect us down here on the surface?
Google Project Loon and beyond
One of the first examples of providing internet to areas of the world that are otherwise disconnected was Google's Project Loon, setup in June 2013.
As the name alludes Google uses air balloons to beam internet down to remote locations. Google claimed that for two out of three people in the world, access to a fast, reliable internet connection doesn't exist and its Project Loon would change that.
Google can keep balloons in the air for 75 days. One balloon, called Ibis 152, has been in air for over 100 days, while another balloon, called Ibis 162, circled the globe three times before it finally descended. The Loon team has also bolstered balloon internet speeds utilising LTE and providing 22 MB/sec to ground antennas and 5 MB/sec to handsets.
Google has since bought drone company Titan Aerospace with apparent plans to offer internet access beamed down from drone planes that stay up in the sky for 5 years at a time. But Google may end up using the drones for mapping and imagery mainly as it's reportedly working on satellites too.
Google satellites, according to The Wall Street Journal, will number 180 and cost up to $3 billion. The plan should be to replace the balloons with the drones and then have satellites compliment that by offering broader coverage in less demanding areas as drones deliver high-capacity service in smaller areas.
Facebook drones and Internet.org
Facebook also wanted to buy Titan Aerospace but was beaten to it by Google. But that hasn't stop Mark Zuckerberg and his company from ploughing ahead.
Zuckerberg set up Internet.org recently which uses mobile phone networks to provide basic internet services to those without online access. 85 per cent of the world has access to cellular coverage but only 30 per cent of those have internet.
This is just the first step though as Facebook is reportedly working on drones that will stay in the sky delivering internet to the world below. Yael Maguire, the engineering director at Facebook's Connectivity Lab, admitted during an interview the drones will be unmanned jets "roughly the size of a commercial aircraft, like a 747". They should be able to fly for years on their own without needing to come back to the surface.
Facebook plans to start testing its drones next year in the US with India and 21 other countries throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America to follow. Drones have already been tested over the UK.
Elon Musk has confirmed that rockets from his SpaceX company will be sending up satellites which will be used to offer internet access on earth.
The launch of this project isn't going to be announced for a few months yet with Musk simply tweeting about it right now.
According to The Wall Street Journal SpaceX will build nearly 700 tiny satellites that weigh no more than 113kg at a cost of around $1 billion. How many trips to space it will take to get them all in orbit isn't clear at this stage.
When asked if the satellites would provide unfettered internet access Elon Musk replied on Twitter saying: "unfettered certainly and at a very low cost".
Musk divulged more details of the plan saying there would be $15 billion spent on this project that will put hundreds of satellites 750 miles above the earth. Musk hopes to provide at least fibre internet speeds to everyone, even those currently without connectivity.