Facebook and Google Now Looking Both at Rural and Dense Urban Internet Access

Terragraph is Facebook’s new effort to develop a high-capacity, fixed wireless Internet access system running on 60-GHz unlicensed spectrum.  Google, for its part, also has invested in fixed wireless.

At the same time, both firms are testing use of unmanned aerial vehicles for satellite Internet delivery, while Google’s Project Loon is testing use of balloon fleets for the same purpose.

Verizon and AT&T also are looking at fixed wireless.  

Facebook’s Telecom Infra Project meanwhile seeks to develop open source and therefore lower cost network elements and platforms for traditional telecom networks. And Google has other efforts underway in the access network infrastructure or commercial access business.

All those efforts have a common theme, but also distinct missions. Since both Google and Facebook have advertising-based business models, anything the helps connect billions more people creates the revenue opportunity both firms are based upon. In other words, Internet access and Internet users directly create the revenue opportunity.

For that reason, there is direct alignment of “Internet access availability” and “our revenue opportunity” for Facebook and Google.

At the same time, there are nuances. Terragraph and Google’s fixed wireless efforts seem primarily aimed at dense, urban areas. The Facebook Aquila UAV effort, as well as Google’s similar effort, plus Project Loon, are aimed primarily at rural areas.

Facebook’s current satellite delivery effort in Africa also is aimed primarily at rural users. Telecom Infra Project might ultimately provide lower costs in either mobile or fixed realms.

And, for some time, lots of app providers have been pushing for use of more unlicensed spectrum, as well as spectrum sharing, as ways to bring more low-cost communications spectrum to market.

Telcos are likely to prefer use of licensed spectrum. So will cable companies in mobile, eventually. But lots of other app providers are likely to look for ways to leverage lower-cost unlicensed or shared spectrum to underpin Internet access efforts, using several business models.

At least in part, Google has chosen to go direct, becoming an ISP, a mobile services and Wi-Fi hotspot supplier. Project Loon would act as a commercial partner for 4G mobile networks, but also is a commercial operation.

The other business model is open source. Facebook already has done so in the data center area. Now it is working to bring an open source approach to telecom network infrastructure as well.

Facebook, for the moment, continues to insist it does not want to become a commercial provider of Internet access. Indeed, its approach has been to create new platforms that take an open systems approach, usable by any entity.

The Telecom Infra Project already has major support from telecom service providers and network infrastructure suppliers. Presumably, Project Aries and Terragraph would be available for other suppliers to sell commercially.

Google’s UAV effort relies on partnerships with mobile operators who have licenses for spectrum Project Loon will use.

In some quarters, the bigger question is whether more firms such as Google might eventually decide there is a business model beyond open source, research and development. As telcos represent on access platform, and cable TV uses a different platform, might others eventually use additional distinct platforms, including networks based on use of unlicensed and shared spectrum?
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