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SkyBender – High-Speed Solar-Powered Internet

While drones were mostly used by the military and navy, they have now become very popular among civilians and also as a means of delivering packages. Each company comes with something new and more high-tech than the others and the competition is at a very high level.

What is Google’s Project SkyBender?

The technology company is currently developing the program, codenamed Project SkyBender, to utilize solar-powered drones equipped with millimeter-wave radio transmitters that could send out next-generation 5G wireless Internet signals.

So why drones?  Why not bounce such signals off of cell towers? It has to do with the way 5G works, by way of millimeter wave radio transmissions. Theoretically, millimeter wave frequencies (30 to 300 gigahertz) can transmit data up to 40 times faster than current 4G LTE wireless tech — but the shorter breaks in 5G waves, while allowing for an increase of data carry do shorten the range of transmission, can be scattered by natural atmospheric activity and make it harder to push through structures. Cell towers just won’t cut it with 5G.

“The huge advantage of millimetre wave is access to new spectrum because the existing cellphone spectrum is overcrowded. It’s packed and there’s nowhere else to go,” says Jacques Rudell, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle and specialist in this technology.

What is Millimeter wave?

Millimeter waves occupy the frequency spectrum from 30 GHz to 300 GHz. They’re found in the spectrum between microwaves (1 GHz to 30 GHz) and infrared (IR) waves, which is sometimes known as extremely high frequency (EHF). The wavelength (λ) is in the 1-mm to 10-mm range. At one time this part of the spectrum was essentially unused simply because few if any electronic components could generate or receive millimeter waves.

All that has changed in the past decade or so. Millimeter waves are now practical and affordable, and they’re finding all sorts of new uses. Best of all, they take the pressure off the lower frequencies and truly expand wireless communications into the outer limits of radio technology If we go any higher in frequency, we will be using light.

Millimetre length electromagnetic waves were first investigated in the 1890s by pioneering Indian scientistJagadish Chandra Bose.

However, millimetre wave transmissions have a much shorter range than mobile phone signals. A broadcast at 28GHz, the frequency Google is testing at Spaceport America, would fade out in around a tenth the distance of a 4G phone signal. To get millimetre wave working from a high-flying drone, Google needs to experiment with focused transmissions from a so-called phased array. “This is very difficult, very complex and burns a lot of power,” Rudell says.


SkyBender where tested?

The SkyBender system is being tested with an “optionally piloted” aircraft called Centaur as well as solar-powered drones made by Google Titan, a division formed when Google acquired New Mexico startup Titan Aerospace in 2014. Titan built high-altitude solar-powered drones with wingspans of up to 50 meters.

Google spent several months last summer building two communication installations on concrete pads at Spaceport America. Project SkyBender is part of the little-known Google Access team, which also includes Project Loon, a plan to deliver wireless internet using unpowered balloons floating through the stratosphere.

One of the millimetre wave transceivers was located near Spaceport America’s Spaceport Operations Centre (SOC), and the other four miles away at the Vertical Launch Area (VLA), although Google’s plans did not involve any rockets. Google also established a repeater tower and numerous other sites around the Spaceport, presumably to test millimetre wave reception.

Both installations have cabinets full of computer servers and other electronics, while the pad at the SOC required a concrete base to support a dish antenna nearly eight feet across, according to a separate filing with the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC).

Google is not the first organization to work with drones and millimetre wave technology. In 2014, Darpa, the research arm of the US military, announced a program called Mobile Hotspots to make a fleet of drones that could provide one gigabit per second communications for troops operating in remote areas.

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