In October, we ran an article speculating that Elon Musk was planning on building a new Internet Service Provider (ISP). While there’s still no official news that the speculation is true, all signs point to that being the case. New details are providing a better picture of the technology likely to be used, and of course it’s in keeping with Musk’s penchant for cutting-edge technologies. From the look of things, Musk’s new venture will almost certainly be bringing you high-speed Internet access from space.
They Have the Technology
If there’s anyone who can rebuild the Internet, making it better, stronger, and faster than it was before, it’s someone like Musk. In addition to Tesla, he’s founder and CEO of SpaceX, a manufacturer of rockets and spacecraft, with “the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.” It’s the first private company to send a payload into space, deliver it to the International Space Station (ISS), and return the supply vehicle to Earth. It’s now a regular supplier of the ISS, and it will soon be capable of carrying astronauts to orbit.
SpaceX has proven its ability to deliver cargo into space. To build an ISP, Musk needed a partner in the satellite business, which he’s found in WorldVu Satellites. A tweet from Musk confirms the scope of the project. Together, they plan to launch a fleet of up to 700 commercial satellites, a number that would be ten times the size of the largest current commercial fleet. Of course, it’s possible these satellites will have a purpose other than Internet delivery, but that seems to be everyone’s guess.
It’s Been Done Before, But
Internet by satellite is not itself a new idea. HughesNet offers satellite Internet service, but their fastest plans currently reach only 15 Mbps. That’s not bad, but it’s hard to imagine SpaceX and WorldVu would invest in such an expensive project if that’s all their technology can do. So far, Tesla and SpaceX have been more revolutionary than evolutionary, so it’s a safe bet Musk will demand his company do significantly better than existing technologies.
Obviously, speed won’t be the only thing he’s after. One potential advantage to Internet by satellite is it can be beamed pretty much anywhere. Ironically, delivering data a thousand miles from space could be easier than the last mile, which has been one problem rural high-speed connections have always had to contend with. Whether these satellites will be the answer rural Internet subscribers have been waiting for could depend on whether the last mile of a customer’s connection would come via a satellite receiver, cable, or other technology. Even so, we doubt it’s a detail Musk will overlook in his planning.
Expect it to Be Cool, Too
Musk already showed he’s as much a fan of style as function. Whether you’re looking at a Tesla Roadster or just the SpaceX website, it’s easy to see just how much value he places in design. It won’t surprise us at all if his system’s hardware and interface rivals Apple for elegance and functionality.
More News Next Year
Musk says an official announcement on the SpaceX/WorldVu venture is 2-3 months away, meaning we should know more in early 2015. And even when that announcement comes, building and launching this many satellites will take years. If you can’t wait that long to improve your enjoyment of the web, see high-speed plans available in your area right now by entering your zip code below.
Image from Chris Devers/Flickr
Entrepreneur Elon Musk understands the Internet. He helped found PayPal, the electronic payment platform that has largely become the top choice for users when making purchases online, especially through the auction-based website eBay, so it might seem like a natural progression for the alternative energy leader to put resources toward developing a new Internet. Or more precisely, a revolutionary new Internet Service Provider (ISP).
I spoke with a number of Silicon Valley experts, who were initially caught off guard with the purely speculative question of whether Elon Musk could, and should, enter the ISP sector in order to show the already existing corporate giants that there is a new way that could bring a more conscious way of looking at how we browse to the forefront.
“That’s an interesting question and one that I don’t think a lot of people are asking right now because of a number of things,” a former Google programmer who has turned his efforts to developing a more open and accessible Internet without the gaze of third-parties such as the government said. “It could work, but it would be costly and even then, there are no guarantees that it would be successful. It would be a massive undertaking.”
One that arguably Musk, the founder, CEO and lead product designer at Tesla Motors, seems fit to excel at, if he were to choose to go after. It makes sense to us, looking at Tesla’s recent announcement of a gigafactory to be erected in Nevada that will mass produce the batteries for the luxury Tesla electric vehicles. That hints that Musk and Tesla could be on the brink of manufacturing millions of batteries that will help improve efficiency in their vehicles and allow for thousands of models to be manufactured annually.
It also could mean the ability to streamline and reduce costs of developing alternative infrastructure that could begin a path toward the creation of a new ISP that brings together environmental awareness with the speed and technological advances that people are itching for in today’s tech world.
“It is a whole lot of cash that someone like Musk would have to put forward with the understanding that the rewards would be years down the road and with a lot of risk,” my programmer contact said.
Almost all discussion of the Internet and ISPs boils down to finances. You need a lot of money and a massive team of lawyers in order to battle red tape, the existing broadband providers and bandwidth. The FCC defines “broadband” as anything above 4Mbps download speed. Musk has that ability to enter the sector, but the question is what he would do and how would he do it. This, of course, is only speculation.
But I spoke with another tech expert, someone who has worked with Google on its Fiber project, which is already delivering 1GB of download speed in its small but growing network. And this expert told me something that could be a major carrot for Musk to go forward on his effort.
“People are really wanting something new and innovative,” the expert said. “Fiber has started that trajectory, and while Google has the means and is showing signs of success, Musk has something almost all of us interested in: alternative means of power.”
By this, he ostensibly means the manner in which Musk has done business. He helped to radically alter how we view online purchasing and payment. He has since become a household name due to his revolutionizing the electric car industry with Tesla Motors, delivering high-end luxury electric vehicles that are functional for daily use, albeit pricey.
And there is evidence that Musk believes that something needs to be done with the Internet. He has often been critical at the lack of real innovative advances in the Internet, and has urged more disruption of the Internet in order to spur growth of new ideas. That tells us he is looking at the current state of affairs facing the Internet. And with much of the focus now being on the interconnectedness of devices, dubbed the Internet of Things (IoT), Musk could, if he chose, use those concepts to build something unique, sustainable and desired by everyone, from Silicon Valley to Paris to Tokyo.
So why not get behind a new project, an ISP? While it might seem farfetched, with his role in SolarCity and Tesla, he has honed his knowledge and expertise into the alternative energy sector. Imagine a new ISP, quite literally on the block, that uses electric vehicles to install and service the network, uses alternative energy to deliver high speeds for downloading and browsing and potentially reduces the overall costs, on both our planet and our wallet? Sounds like something most of us could get behind.
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