official start in technology businesses goes back to 4 December 1989 but I well
remember my interest in the technological world being stirred up when our
school, St. Johns College, purchased two Apple II computers in the early
eighties and I started tinkering and programming and being entirely fascinated.
With almost twenty-seven years officially involved in technology and well over
thirty years of playing computers and electronics, I am often asked for my
opinion on the most significant technology changes I have witnessed in that

answer is easy. The ubiquity of connectivity. Well, almost ubiquity. In cities
and metropolitan areas throughout the nation, we have a reasonable expectation
that we can access the outside world – via some method – no matter where we
are. Unfortunately, there are Australian residents who live outside these
cities that are incredibly important to our economy and standard of living that
struggle to find any connection but the general expectation is that we can
connect wherever we are.

have previously talked about some of the issues involving satellites for
Internet connectivity. Satellites in geostationary orbit are at an approximate
distance of 35,786km above the earth and, as such, the latency makes the
Internet frustrating to use so many organisations are going away from satellite

little companies that you may have heard of are currently involved in attempts
to bring connectivity to remote and regional locations that can be delivered at
reasonable speeds at costs that are not stratospheric. One advantage of having
a company that is making billions of dollars a year in profits is that you can
pour some of that money into making the world a better place. At least that is
what Google and Facebook would have us believe. The cynics may suggest that the
more people on the globe that are connected to the Internet then the higher the
profits will be for companies like Google and Facebook.

Loon is a research and development project developed by Google that uses, wait
for it, balloons. The concept is that, unlike the costs, the balloons will be
stratospheric. A number of balloons will be floated into the stratosphere at a
height of about 18km above the earth. The balloons will communicate with each
other and ISPs on the ground to deliver Internet connectivity at 4G-LTE speeds
(similar to the speeds we achieve on our current mobile phone network). An area
in New Zealand was used as an early pilot with 50 users connecting to the
system and Sri Lanka is currently in the process of connecting with Project
Loon on a mass scale. I can only assume Sri Lanka was chosen due to low
Internet connectivity (21.9 per cent) combined with a small land mass (65,610
square kilometres – smaller than Tasmania) and a high population density (a
population of 20.5 million people). It also helped that the government came on
board as a joint venture partner.

ten balloon ‘crashes’ so far, Project Loon is confident that each balloon will
be able to stay airborne for over six months at a time.

to be outdone, Facebook is working on a slightly different concept. The
Facebook Connectivity Lab is currently testing Aquila – a solar powered drone
that will fly at 18km above the earth. A number of drones will be used to
deliver a similar solution to Project Loon’s balloons. The delivery of the
signal to various locations is the relatively simple part – the tricky part is
keeping something up in the air for months at a time. It is interesting that
the two projects have gone for dramatically different mechanisms. The first
test flight of Aquila was only in June this year and after 96 minutes in the
air it had a slightly bumpy landing that damaged the drone but it was a first

used to think our airspace was becoming crowded with 12,024 commercial planes
up in the air at the time I wrote this article. As Google and Facebook and
other players join the market to deliver Internet connectivity from above, I
can see this airspace becoming almost as crowded.

Mathew Dickerson

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