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article imageGoogle to beam 5G Internet from the skies using a fleet of drones

By James Walker     Feb 1, 2016 in Technology
Google is working on a system that will see solar-powered drones delivering 5G Internet from the sky, according to a report. The company has already built several prototype versions of "Project SkyBender" and has acquired FCC permission to do so.
The top secret project was revealed in a report from the Guardian recently. The newspaper obtained details of the plans under public records laws that exposed the secret project. Google is operating out of Virgin Galactic's hangar at Spaceport America in New Mexico, testing prototype transceivers and drones that use high-frequency millimetre waves to transmit 5G data through the skies.
The company has built its own flight control centre on the site, Spaceflight Operations Centre. Solar-powered drones from Google Titan are being used alongside a piloted aircraft as it tests the technology above the runway at the facility. Google has permission from the FCC to keep trialling SkyBender until July 2016.
SkyBender's use of millimetre waves means it could transfer data at a theoretical rate of several gigabits per second. Speeds in excess of 800Gbps have already been experienced in some tests of 5G and the emerging technology already looks promising.
Aside from increased speed, 5G also has a much larger radio spectrum to work with than 4G, so more devices will be able to connect at once. This factor will be more important in a few years as millions of connected Internet of Things products begin to arrive in homes worldwide.
Jacques Rudell, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington, told the Guardian: "The huge advantage of millimetre wave is access to new spectrum because the existing cellphone spectrum is overcrowded. It's packed and there's nowhere else to go."
There are drawbacks though. The waves have a very high frequency of around 28GHz, which results in a quick fade-out time. Google's current implementation of the technology has one-tenth the range of a 4G phone signal, a problem that will hinder progress when developing the project.
Very high-frequency waves require large amounts of power to sustain, another issue Google will need an answer to before it launches a drone-powered 5G network. That may be some time away though as development so far hasn't gone smoothly.
The Guardian reports that several setbacks have been experienced due to problems in the construction phase. A list of incidents includes having to turn a delivery truck away because the team had no way of taking their pallet off the trailer and components being installed upside down without the correct accessories.
Project SkyBender is being developed by the same Google division responsible for Project Loon, a team that delivers Internet to rural regions by floating balloons through the atmosphere. Google isn't the first company to consider using drones for Internet access as parties including Facebook's Internet.org arm are already working on similar systems.
Assuming SkyBender ever gets off the ground, it could be a useful way of delivering localised Internet connections to places where it isn't feasible to lay down broadband cables or if existing infrastructure is knocked offline.
5G technology is beginning to get moving and should become available in major cities before the end of the decade. Last month, Ericsson and TeliaSonera revealed that 5G will be available in Stockholm, Sweden, and Tallinn, Estonia, by 2018 with more regions planned for 2019 and 2020.
More about Google, project skybender, Drones, 5G, Internet