Alphabet will use beams of light to deliver internet in Kenya

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The moonshot project has a new name, too.

 It’s been a while since we’ve heard about Alphabet’s Free Space Optical Communications (FSOC) project. If you’ve forgotten all about it, we don’t blame you: the acronym doesn’t stick in the mind quite like Google Fiber or Project Loon. To solve the problem, Alphabet’s ‘X’ division has renamed the initiative Project Taara. (I like it, though Project Tidal already starts with the letter ’T.’ If both moonshots ’graduate’ and become fully-fledged companies, one will have to rebrand or ruin Alphabet’s otherwise immaculate naming scheme.) It suggests that Google’s parent company now sees the technology, which uses laser-beaming boxes to deliver connectivity, as something that can eventually become a real business.

In a blog post, Taara general manager Mahesh Krishnaswamy announced that the team is formally working with telecoms giant Econet in Africa. It’s not clear, however, if any money is changing hands. Initially, Taara’s hardware will support Econet subsidiary Liquid Telecom in Kenya. It’s an obvious move given that the moonshot has already trialed its technology in the country, which followed pilots in Andhra Pradesh, a state in India.

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By 2024, 5G could be beamed to your phone using huge, hydrogen-powered aircraft

 

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A Stratospheric Platforms antenna, inside a testing chamber

In the near future, your phone may take its 5G signal from the sky instead of a nearby mast on the ground. It’s an innovative way to solve the problem of increasing connectivity without relying on thousands of terrestrial cell towers. The concept is known as a High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS), and it essentially takes the cell tower from the ground and puts it in the sky.

The latest HAPS project to be unveiled is from Stratospheric Platforms and Cambridge Consultants. Today, the pair revealed the core of its efforts, a special antenna and unmanned aircraft, which it has been working on confidentially for the last four years.

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The quantum internet will blow your mind. Here’s what it will look like

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The next generation of the Internet will rely on revolutionary new tech — allowing for unhackable networks and information that travels faster than the speed of light.

Call it the quantum Garden of Eden. Fifty or so miles east of New York City, on the campus of Brookhaven National Laboratory, Eden Figueroa is one of the world’s pioneering gardeners planting the seeds of a quantum internet. Capable of sending enormous amounts of data over vast distances, it would work not just faster than the current internet but faster than the speed of light — instantaneously, in fact, like the teleportation of Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk in Star Trek.

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New research advances U.S. Army’s quest for ultra-secure quantum networking

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Two U.S. Army research projects at the University of Chicago advance quantum networking, which will play a key role in future battlefield operations.

 Quantum networks will potentially deliver multiple novel capabilities not achievable with classical networks, one of which is secure quantum communication. In quantum communication protocols, information is typically sent through entangled photon particles. It is nearly impossible to eavesdrop on quantum communication, and those who try leave evidence of their tampering; however, sending quantum information via photons over traditional channels, such as fiber-optic lines, is difficult – the photons carrying the information are often corrupted or lost, making the signals weak or incoherent.

In the first project, the University of Chicago research team, funded and managed by the U.S. Army’s Combat Capability Development’s Army Research Laboratory’s Center for Distributed Quantum Information, demonstrated a new quantum communication technique that bypasses those traditional channels. The research linked two communication nodes with a channel and sent information quantum-mechanically between the nodes—without ever occupying the linking channel.

“This result is particularly exciting not only because of the high transfer efficiency the team achieved, but also because the system they developed will enable further exploration of quantum protocols in the presence of variable signal loss,” said Dr. Sara Gamble, program manager at the lab’s Army Research Office and co-manager of the Center for Distributed Quantum Information. “Overcoming loss is a key obstacle in realizing robust quantum communication and quantum networks.”

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Inside Facebook’s new power grab

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Mark Zuckerberg is not a man used to failure. He has built a $600-billion empire, buying up or crushing most would-be competitors and brushing regulators aside. When, in 2015, he personally headed up an effort – first called internet.org, then “Free Basics” – to help 3.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to the internet get connected, he might have expected praise for what he framed as philanthropy. The service would offer free unlimited access to a selection of hand-picked websites to people in India and countries across Asia, South America and Africa – getting more people online while, incidentally, making Facebook the controllers of the front page of the internet for these new users.

The praise did not come. Facebook was accused of “digital colonialism”, and of creating “poor internet for poor people”. There were even street protests against Free Basics in India, the country Zuckerberg had visited to promote the initiative. As political pressure mounted, in 2016 Free Basics was effectively outlawed by Indian regulators. The debacle was for a time described as “Facebook’s biggest setback”. If you only look at the headlines, Free Basics – and Facebook’s mission to connect the world – all but disappeared after that. But the reality of what happened next is very different.

“The project kept expanding – albeit much more discreetly,” explains Dr Toussaint Nothias, director of research at the Stanford Digital Civil Society Lab. “At the end of 2015, Facebook reported that Free Basics was available in 30 countries. Today, they say it’s available in ‘more than 55 countries’. In Africa [alone], I found that it’s available in 29 countries.”

Working far more quietly than before, Facebook has spearheaded efforts across the globe to connect people to the internet – working on technology, software, business models and more. The company refined Free Basics to give it less control over which sites users could access, and in May 2020 launched a successor, Discover, which allows users a daily allowance of data they can use to access any website.

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The big future of satellite internet just took a promising step forward

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As companies like SpaceX and Amazon scramble the satellites to build internet constellations, an old piece of tech gets an update.

Some of the biggest companies in the world, like Amazon and SpaceX, are looking towards space for the future of the Internet. Satellite-based Internet is a nascent enterprise, but analysts believe that broadband Internet beamed to Earth from orbit could be a massive business fewer than 20 years, earning hundreds of billions of dollars.

Attention has focused on the “space” part of “space Internet,” with news stories focused on the rocket launches getting SpaceX’s Starlink satellites into space, and how Amazon plans to catch up with satellites of its own. But all of these satellites will need transceivers on Earth to send and receive data. Scientists at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and Socionext Inc. have built a new one that is made to work with the next generation of Internet satellites.

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Cambridge researchers create a touchscreen you don’t have to touch

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We’d assume at this point that every smartphone user knows that their touchscreen is one of the nastiest devices they own. The surface of a touchscreen can be packed with viruses and bacteria that have the potential to make people sick. This is a particularly significant issue in the current world climate with the coronavirus pandemic leading to illnesses that could potentially kill people.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge have been working on a new type of touchscreen that doesn’t have to be touched. It’s called the “no-touch touchscreen” and was developed specifically for use in cars. Researchers believe that it could have widespread applications in the post-COVID-19 world thanks to its ability to reduce the risk pathogen transmission from the surface of devices. The patent behind the technology is known as “predictive touch” and was developed as part of research collaboration with Jaguar Land Rover.

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How COVID-19 ended the Information Era and ushered in the Age of Insight

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Tech companies will play a crucial role in making the next wave of progress a reality.

The COVID-19 crisis was the catalyst for rapid change and brought with it the opportunity to accelerate towards a brighter future;

A new era that is defined by insights and discoveries that benefit all of society has arrived;

Technology companies will play a crucial role in ensuring this transformation is sustainable, inclusive, and trustworthy.

COVID-19 introduced challenges that we as a society were not ready to address. We are converting to a digital-first world overnight. Becoming fully connected. Ensuring all of our personal data is protected. And taking steps to not leave anyone behind in this new digital economy.

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Samsung: Expect 6G in 2028, enabling mobile holograms and digital twins

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Just as the earliest 5G networks began to go live two years ago, a handful of scientists were eager to publicize their initial work on the next-generation 6G standard, which was at best theoretical back then, and at worst an ill-timed distraction. But as 5G continues to roll out, 6G research continues, and today top mobile hardware developer Samsung is weighing in with predictions of what’s to come. Surprisingly, the South Korean company is preparing for early 6G to launch two years ahead of the commonly predicted 2030 timeframe, even though both the proposed use cases and the underlying technology are currently very shaky.

Given that the 5G standard already enabled massive boosts in data bandwidth and reductions in latency over 4G, the questions of what more 6G could offer — and why — are key to establishing the need for a new standard. On the “what” side, Samsung expects 6G to offer 50 times higher peak data rates than 5G, or 1,000Gbps, with a “user experienced data rate” of 1Gbps, plus support for 10 times more connected devices in a square kilometer. Additionally, Samsung is targeting air latency reductions from 5G’s under 1 millisecond to under 100 microseconds, a 100 times improvement in error-free reliability, and twice the energy efficiency of 5G.

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Facebook built a new fiber-spinning robot to make internet service cheaper

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Facebook has designed a robot that can install fiber on traditional power lines, as shown in this rendering.

 The robot’s code name is Bombyx, which is Latin for silkworm, and pilot tests with the machine begin next year.

The robot rests delicately atop a power line, balanced high above the ground, almost as if it’s floating. Like a short, stocky tightrope walker, it gradually makes its way forward, leaving a string of cable in its wake. When it comes to a pole, it gracefully elevates its body to pass the roadblock and keep chugging along.

This isn’t a circus robot. Facebook developed the machine to install fiber cables on medium-voltage power lines around the globe. The aim is to make it cheaper for internet service providers to build out their networks using super-fast and reliable fiber connections. Installing fiber is a pricey endeavor, limiting where it can be deployed. If the cost of installation goes down, says Facebook, so too does the cost of service for the end user.

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Alphabets Loon launches its balloon powered Kenyan internet service

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 Alphabet’s Loon has officially begun operating its commercial internet service in Kenya . This is the first large-scale commercial offering that makes use of Loon’s high-altitude balloons, which essentially work as cell service towers that drift on currents in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Loon’s Kenyan service is offered in partnership with local telecom provider Telkom Kenya, and provides cellular service through their network to an area covering roughly 50,000 square kilometres (31,000 square miles) that normally hasn’t had reliable service due to the difficulty of setting up ground infrastructure in the mountainous terrain.

Loon has been working toward deploying its first commercial service deployment in Kenya since it announced the signed deal in 2019, but the company says that the mission has taken on even greater significance and importance since the onset of COVID-19, which has meant that reliable connectivity, especially in light of the restrictions upon travel that the epidemic has placed, makes the ability to remotely contact doctors, family members and others all the more important.

Some of the technical details of how Loon’s stratospheric balloons will offer this continuous service, and what kind of network quality people can expect, include that the fleet has around 35 balloons acting together, which are moving constantly to maintain the target area coverage. Average speeds look to be around 18.9Mbps down, and 4.74 Mbps up, with 19 millisecond latency, and real-world testing has shown that this has served well for use across voice and video calls, as well as YouTube streaming, WhatsApp use and more, according to Loon.

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