Internet for all: Stratospheric solutions by Google loon and Facebook drone
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Internet for all: Stratospheric solutions by Google loon and Facebook drone

Course project for Wireless Technologies course at Northwestern University's MSIT program

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  • 1. Northwestern University McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science Master of Science in Information Technology MSIT 413: Wireless Technologies Internet for All: Stratospheric solutions by Google Loon and Facebook Drone Abdulsalam A, Hang Li, Jie Zhang March 16, 2014 1
  • 2. Table of Content Introduction Figure 1: Top 20 connected countries, by price and speed Stratospheric Solutions Overview Table 1: Loon vs Drone Google Project Loon Engineering/How Loon Works Stratospheric Environment Figure 2: Wave current and balloons movement Figure 3: Stratosphere by altitude Balloon Figure 4: Loon vs Drone Power Figure 5: Solar panel for Loon Figure 6: Battery insulation Circuitry and Transmission Figure 7: Patent circuitry of Loon Figure 8: Original on-board circuitry for early pilots Connectivity Figure 9: Mesh network of Loon Figure 10: Dual polarized dipole antenna for the receiver Technical considerations for Project Loon Facebook Drone Figure 11: Titan Solara Drone Regulatory/Political Issues Cost and what next ? Criticisms Conclusion Appendix 2
  • 3. Introduction Over the past 25 years of internet and evolution of the world wide web, some population of the world have enjoyed the benefits and goodies of online lifestyles while other majority have not experienced an hour of internet. The thought that everyone is on the internet is very wrong, and this is true, because for every one connected person, there are two unconnected people. The way the world works is changing; we used to live in a resource based economy where things are shared or traded, but the world is now a knowledge economy, which means we can share knowledge and information almost freely to improve our lives. The imagination of how a connected world can provide basic information such as primary health care data, education and research, environmental data, media and entertainment, etc to the rest of the world is a serious concern, because the internet is the backbone of the knowledge economy. Indeed, if everyone had access to basic information and tools, then everyone would benefit from the creativity, innovation and ideas that everyone embodies.1 The reason behind the access challenge is obvious; the high cost of providing internet connectivity, due to the level of technology and current infrastructure. The paradox is that; as it is ineffective and costly for ISPs to expand especially into rural, low economic regions, so also people living below the poverty line of $1 per day can not afford the highly priced internet service. Even in the developed world, where most have disposable incomes to join this knowledge economy, the cost and speed of access is still a challenge. Figure 1 belows shows the top 20 connected nations, and its obvious that no appreciable throughput can be achieved for $1 per month. Figure 1: Top 20 connected countries, by price and speed 1 Making internet affordable by Mark Zuckerberg - 3
  • 4. The challenge poses the idea of finding alternate solutions, that can balance the ever-growing needs of global development. Interestingly, there has been some research works, trying to solve the problem. There are also several papers presented in the past 10 years on scalable approaches, that will either improve current technologies or completely disrupt with something new. However, five interesting ideas may likely make a difference if successful . These wireless 2 solutions are innovative and scalable; ● Low-orbiting satellites ● Metamaterial antennas ● Balloons ● Drones ● TV white space While low-orbiting satellites are almost the same as satellite communication systems, there are good business reasons for the approach. Also, metamaterial antennas are not new, but are redefined for cheap usage in high-powered transceivers or base station . TV whitespace, 3 is quite a challenge, because it tries to solve the problem from the spectrum standpoint, which becomes policy and change issues. TV white space lobbyists are trying to re-acquire unused TV frequencies for wireless internet service and improve spectrum efficiency. Two keys solutions are referred to as stratospheric solutions . The concepts tries to 4 address; Ubiquity, True Coverage, Reliability, Affordability and Scalability. Importantly, to note is that the current iterations of these projects are funded not by Government or research labs, but by vested interests that have excess funds to support research and development to fruition. This is also obvious, because these companies have markets to cover and gain enough potentials for its businesses. Google Inc. (Google X lab) is in active research on using Balloons to activate wireless internet connectivity to everyone, with its Project Loon . Currently, in its pilot stage, 30 5 balloons floated in New Zealand in Summer of 2013, show positive results. Google strongly believes that the stratosphere is common to everyone and with the amount of data available, this medium can be help solve the internet divide. Similarly, after the demonstration of a drone-like airship called stratellite, by a Mexican company, Titan Aerospace; with the capability to carry wireless communication devices, Facebook Inc. is convinced that investing in such a companies promises further development of an ubiquity solution. While the drones are almost ready for commercial purposes, there are continued efforts to integrate these drones with current communication infrastructure. The project intends to highlight some of the features and engineering behind the Project Loon and Facebook Drone (Titan Solara 60) and detail some regulatory, economics and policy issues involved to achieve internet access for all. 2 3 4 5 4
  • 5. Stratospheric Solutions Overview Google Loon Facebook Drone Transceiver Medium Balloon Drone High altitude 20 miles (32 km) 11 miles (18km) Duration 100 days 5 years Coverage 1,250 km2 17,000 km2 Motion Speed 8-32 km/h 104.5 km/h Spectrum 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz 5.8GHz Data rate less than 0.1Gbps greater than 1 Gbps Research and Development In-house (X labs) External (Titan Aerospace) Additional services VOIP Surveillance Table 1: Loon vs Drone Google Project Loon Loon is currently designed to work at 3G speed over unlicensed 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz spectrum, floating in the stratosphere high above aircrafts, using helium filled balloon. Engineering/How Loon Works Stratospheric Environment Because the wind below 10km of altitude is not favorable, and because balloons can not be positioned even above that tropopause, an algorithm is developed to control movement or flow of the balloons based on national wind data, just like the sailing of boat to shoreline, adjusting them along right currents in the direction of waves of the wind. Figure 2: Wave current and balloons movement 5
  • 6. Figure 3 below shows altitude levels above the atmosphere and somewhat indicate that theoretically, radio waves behave well in free space, with no interference of signal, and power is attenuated by path loss coefficient lower than 2 Figure 3: Stratosphere by altitude Balloon The material for the manufacturing the balloon is polyethene, simply 3 times thicker than typical bread wrapper ~0.076mm (0.030in). These balloons have super pressure design that can withstand harsh UV radiation and temperatures as low as -58F. When inflated, each balloon has a dimension of about 50 feet wide, and 40 feet tall. Also, the balloons have customized electronic air-pump system that control mixture of helium and air, as the balloon ascend or descend in altitude. In case of failure, a parachute is installed for safe landing of the payload. Figure 2 below shows a section of a fully inflated balloon. The balloon released be circling the globe continuously along the 40th parallel. Figure 4: Loon vs Drone Power To power the circuitry and motion of the balloons, the only intuitive solution is solar energy. However, the temperature at this altitude is really low (-100F), and the radiation of sun is only for a fraction of the day. This is a challenge for 6
  • 7. solar-powered batteries that allow each balloon to transmit signals, run the heater so the electronics don’t freeze, and change altitudes to navigate . Alternate or backup 6 solution are therefore required. Figure 5 below shows a proposed 5x5 feet array of solar panels, that will power 100W system and charge batteries for 4-5 hours. Figure 5: Solar panel for Loon An earlier iteration of Loon, shows that Lithium ion batteries were initially implemented for dark hours. See Figure 7. However, the system is built to be self-sustaining and fully employs renewable scheme. To keep the batteries warm enough to function efficiently, despite the cold environment, special casings and insulation are designed and tested for true proof. Figure 6 is a shining insulation that reflects heat energy by radiation7 Figure 6: Battery insulation 6 7 7
  • 8. Circuitry and Transmission Each balloon carries a payload of about 10 kg, including but not limited to radio antenna, several sensors, altitude control system, processor chips and batteries. Figure 7 is a possible patent diagram of the circuitry . The on-board antenna uses an 8 Ubiquiti Network Rocket M2 as a WIFI transceiver. A customized Linux OS is also loaded on a processor chip to manage and transmit network and location data. The OS is loaded with software that can logged onto remotely via the web. Figure 7: Patent circuitry of Loon Third iteration of original circuitry for early pilots is shown below in figure 7;9 Figure 8: Original on-board circuitry for early pilots 8 patent.html 9 8
  • 9. Connectivity There are several ground stations with transceivers similar to that on the balloon, but they are high-powered Ubiquiti AirMax/Rocket M5 (operating at 5.8Ghz). The 10 network is designed as a mesh layout to ensure reliability. A ground station already connected via either fiber or other backbone infrastructure to the internet, beams signal to any nearby balloon. The first balloon that receives the signal, then 11 forwards or hops the signal up to 5 other balloons on its same path in sequence, a distance of about 100 km (62 miles). Figure 9 shows the mesh structure of Loon Figure 9: Mesh network of Loon Each balloon then hops the WIFI signal to ground users with coverage of about 1,256 km2 (780 sq miles), in context the twice the size of New York City. Users can receives signal via smartphones or customized dual-polarization dipole antenna through an access point. Figure 10 shows current iteration of the ground receiver antenna. Figure 10: Dual polarized dipole antenna for the receiver 10 11 9
  • 10. Technical considerations for Project Loon Radio: Loon’s current radio design negatively interfere on the ground in more developed areas, due to fading, scattering and Rayleigh effects. This would definitely affect other local WIFI signals. There would be so much signals and noise in the airwaves, that may require changes in regulation and implementation of other technologies. Connectivity: The WIFI card (Rocket M5) is assumed to be MIMO 802.11a/g/n standard and uses TDMA, that can deliver 150 Mbps throughput at +50 km, but still 12 the latency is pretty high (about 700+ms), this may be due to the moving balloons. This may not be a viable option for VOIP service, which could motivate adoption of the service. Generally, some salient issues still exist, such as interference management between balloons; handoff between balloons; fading from the ground stations; latency management and error control. Facebook Drone Confirmed reports, have it that Facebook is likely going to acquire a Mexico-based company ; Titan Aerospace for $60m. Titan’s solar-powered drones, which can 13 reportedly stay airborne for five years, can help Facebook achieve its goal of providing Internet access around the world. In theory, a solar-powered drone capable of withstanding long flights at high altitude. Titan had demonstrated it debut Solara 50 and 60, in 2013, showing possibility to provide communication services, from just above the Tropopause (close to the atmosphere), 60,000 feet altitude that the FAA doesn't control. Facebook is said to be especially interested in the Solara 60, a featherweight aircraft built of composite materials that the New Mexico-based company claims can maintain an altitude of 65,000 feet for years without refueling, thanks to thousands of solar cells blanketing the aircraft. Figure 11: Titan Solara Drone 12 13 10
  • 11. Solara 60 Solara are mounted with both LOS and BLOS (Beyond Line of Sight) small, low cost radio repeaters and/or transmitters. The repeater receives the signals from transmitters on the selected radio frequency (RF) channel and then re-transmits them on another frequency to a receiver. The Solara 60 can complete most of the same 14 functions as an orbital satellite, but is cheaper and more versatile. It can also stay at an altitude of 20 km for up to five years, without ever having to come back down and refuel. The platform works exactly like regular satellite communication systems but are better. Solara can last up to 5 years, has 120 ft wingspan and 50 ft long, has speeds greater than 1 Gbps, has larger coverage than 1018 sq miles and efficient power management .15 The Solara offers about an 18-mile radius of coverage—easily covering all of New York City's five boroughs, as shown in the map below. A "constellation" of Solara craft could create a persistent communication network for disaster relief efforts or could provide long-term services. Regulatory/Political Issues The biggest obstacles for these projects are not definitely technology or funding, but regulation and politics. Mesh networks are nothing new, and dirigibles have been around since the time of Graf Zeppelin . The minefield here is entirely political. Both Google and 16 Facebook, need to maneuver some critical issues. First, is the use of airspace; secondly is use of the ISM unlicensed spectrum; thirdly is fear of insecurity and Spying. 14 15 16 11
  • 12. Airspace This is the portion of the atmosphere controlled by a country above its territory, including its territorial water, more generally, any specific three-dimensional portion of the atmosphere. There are many rules regarding airspace and who controls it, and also disagreements as to how far (up) such control extends. Although, space is still an open frontier, loosely regulated by international treaties, most governments consider the stratosphere above them their sovereign airspace, which is why they shoot down spy planes that venture into it. Spectrum The signals currently propagate in the unlicensed ISM spectrum (2.4 and 5.8GHz) the pilot period. The Internet signals travel in the unlicensed spectrum, which means Google and Facebook drone do not have to go through the onerous regulatory processes required for Internet providers using wireless communications networks or satellites during experiment. However, the scenario is not as simple as WiFi. When Google or Facebook become a global ISP; actually providing or selling internet service, like any communications service provider are regulated and governments will likely want some say in how that access is offered, what they can charge, and ultimately whom they are allowed to connect. Also It can’t just use any old spectrum either. It will have to convince hundreds of different regulators to agree on a unified band or ride over an existing one. But the scope and range of Google Loon or Facebook Drone network will likely require dedicated airwaves. Security This is the part that governments are concerned most about. It revolves around countries and citizens’ safety to a large extend. With recent NSA and data theft/leak incidences, both Google and Facebook may need to work harder to assure the countries it is working with that the network is secure and agree to terms and conditions of these countries. This is paramount, because some country leaders, 12
  • 13. prefer to be out of internet, than to be attacked by the US and its allies. Cost and what next ? The cost for deploying a single balloon is not too high, but Google is planning to fly about 70,000 balloons to be economically logical on a global scale. The estimated cost for the pilot in New Zealand for only 30 balloons is about $1.8 million. However, the cost alone for a single UAV manufactured by Titan is about $2million. This cost does not include the internet service. Item Cost ($) Polyethylene plastic envelopes 4,000 Helium gas 2,000 Solar panel 500 Navigation control system 1,000 Equipment box 12,000 19,500 Total of cost of balloons(30) $585,000 Station construction and equipment installation $1,200,000 Estimated Total (for new zealand pilot) $1,785,000 The difference in economics is the area covered by Google (about 780 sq mile), while Facebook Drone may even spend more for the projected 1080sq mile. There is also additional cost for private WIFI licenses which will be dictated by different governments. Research continues and patents are been filed everyday to quickly commercialize the project. Some of the next phases for Google, is work on efficient deployment mechanisms. Figure 12 shows a system filed for patient. A truck that deliver balloons and automatically launch the system without human touch. Figure 12a: Solar powered truck Figure 12b: Balloon self-deployment 13
  • 14. Criticisms ● Temple University communications professor Patrick Murphy warned of mixed consequences, pointing to China and Brazil as places where Internet service promoted democratic principles but also contributed to a surge in consumerism that has resulted in environmental and health problems. ● There are some opposing voices such as Bill Gates, who has questioned whether Google's Project Loon, an effort to bring giant internet-giving balloons to less-developed countries, is really that good of an idea. During an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Gates was asked whether he thought bringing internet to parts of the world would help solve problems. "When you're dying of malaria, I suppose you'll look up and see that balloon, and I'm not sure how it'll help you." Conclusion Indeed in the nearest future, everyone may eventually have affordable high-speed internet. Both Google Inc and Facebook Inc have devoted themselves to providing worldwide internet access, and the technologies seem promising. Though, the world may hold different opinions about such research and solutions, it keep technology enthusiasts excited that after all there is hope to make the world a global knowledge economy. And the competition between the two company would make stratospheric solution a possibility. 14
  • 15. Appendix Rocket M2 and M5 datasheet 15
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