Google is building and testing solar-powered internet drones capable of beaming down high-speed 5G Internet via millimetre-wave radio transmissions. The project is codenamed “SkyBender”.
A recent report by The Guardian revealed that the tech giant is using an “optionally piloted plane called Centaur” in addition to solar-powered drones by Google Titan. Using high frequency millimetre waves will theoretically allow Google to transmit gigabits of data every second at speeds over 40 times faster than 4G LTE.
The company has built ‘several prototype transceivers’ at Spaceport America in New Mexico last summer and is ‘testing them with multiple drones’, the report said.
Jacques Rudell, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle and specialist in this technology, was quoted by The Guardian as saying: “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,”
One of the main challenges Google faces is getting high frequency millimetre waves to work from a high-flying drone.
Millimetre waves, the band of spectrum between 30 gigahertz (Ghz) and 300 Ghz, have a much shorter wave-length than current mobile signals, which means that they fade away very quickly.
They simply don’t travel the same distances as radio waves and require a line-of-sight connection between the transmitting and receiving antennas in order properly work. Buildings, overcast, and rain can block these shorter wavelengths or have significant impact on the quality of their reception.
In order to overcome this technical barrier Google needs to ‘experiment with focused transmissions from a so-called phased array’, according to Rudell.
Last year Professor Cenk Gursoy of Syracuse University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science highlighted the potential of using the “millimeter wave frequency band,” for the primary purpose of allocating more bandwidth to deliver faster, higher-quality video and multimedia content.
Gursoy, who is currently exploring ways to address the line-of-sight and attenuation issues to integrate the use of millimeter waves through modeling, said:
“The millimeter band is a much broader spectrum and given the spectrum crunch we are experiencing, we should have already moved there. But there are certain challenges. We intend to look at the challenges and develop solutions to deal with them to move into these higher frequencies.”