There are currently about three billion people connecting to the Internet, most of them through mobile devices and cellular networks, according to the International Telecommunication Union. Yet the business of getting bits to people and their devices has barely begun. Most people don’t have access to the Internet, and of those who do, most are on connections you, the reader, would find unacceptably slow.
The solution to the related challenges of getting Internet to the next four billion people, and making it fast, will very likely be Internet from the sky.
This has been tried before, of course. In the recent past, Internet from space has been a difficult business. Both Iridium and Globalstar, pioneers in networks of low-Earth orbit satellite networks, have spent time in bankruptcy.
Typically, satellite networks have two problems. If they are close to Earth, they are expensive, because they require many satellites to cover the planet. For example, there are 66 satellites in the Iridium network, and the satellites orbit at about 485 miles from Earth. If much bigger and more powerful satellites are used in geostationary orbit—22,236 miles above Earth—the planet could be covered with just three satellites, but it would take so long for a signal to reach them that the latency would be unacceptable for many applications.