How High-Speed Internet Is Coming to Remote Areas

Satellites and light beams are are on the way

Key Takeaways

  • Remote areas may be getting high-speed internet thanks to new technologies. 
  • British firm OneWeb recently launched 34 satellites that could provide internet access to areas, including the arctic. 
  • Researchers are testing a new way of delivering high-speed internet via beams of light through the air.
Someone using a tablet computer in a vineyard.

RgStudio / Getty Images

Even some of the most remote places on Earth may soon be able to stream videos and do other tasks that require high-speed interne, thanks to new technology. 

British firm OneWeb recently launched 34 satellites into orbit from a spaceport in Kazakhstan, increasing its in-orbit constellation to 322 satellites. The satellites are intended to provide high-speed internet coverage in areas that are underserved by traditional methods. It’s part of a new wave of technologies that could help bridge the digital divide. 

"Satellites can provide a solution for people living in remote areas where terrestrial broadband infrastructure has not been built out, providing essential connectivity for millions of people," Mark Buell, a vice president of the nonprofit Internet Society, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

Internet From Space

OneWeb says the recent launch is the first phase in a plan to build a constellation of 648 satellites that will deliver high-speed, low-latency global connectivity. The remote areas its satellites will cover include parts of the Arctic that don’t get high-speed internet. 

A growing number of companies are sending satellites into the sky to provide internet services, including Elon Musk’s Starlink and Amazon's Project Kuiper, as well as other players like OneWeb, Telesat, and Dish Networks. 

There’s a crucial need for remote areas to get better internet service. Over the past 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world how important the Internet is during a crisis, Buell said. 

"The Internet has become a lifeline for millions of people that have increasingly relied on it for healthcare, education, staying in touch with loved ones, and more," Buell added. "Unfortunately, many rural and remote communities have been unable to benefit from it."

Jon Rosenberg, who lives in a rural area of Colorado, is among those who have benefitted from the new satellite service. He had a standard satellite internet service and a ground-based ISP for several years, but the connection was so poor that he couldn’t accomplish much, he said. 

"Recently, I was able to get Starlink installed at my home," he told Lifewire in an email interview. "This made it so that I could finally run my business efficiently. Now I can upload photos to Mailchimp, post videos to YouTube, and do everything I need to do all at once for my eCommerce business."

But as the number of satellites increases, there could be problems ahead, experts warn. 

"As more satellites are being launched into low Earth orbit, the chance of collisions is only continuing to grow," Shrihari Pandit, the CEO of Stealth Communications, told Lifewire in an email interview. "A bad collision could render a satellite virtually unrepairable."

"Additionally, in many cases, these satellites need to be replaced after only a few years. The deorbiting process could end up being very costly for these carriers."

Using Light to Connect

Satellites aren’t the only answer for remote internet. Researchers are testing a new way of delivering high-speed internet via beams of light through the air. Project Taara, one of Alphabet X's technologies, recently successfully transmitted data across the Congo River. The project could allow citizens in Brazzaville and Kinshasa to get faster and cheaper broadband.

Children in East Africa using a tablet computer.

Hadynyah / Getty Images

The light beam idea grew out of Project Loon, a broadband project using high-altitude balloons. Unfortunately, project Loon has been shut down.

Project Taara could fill a "particularly stubborn connectivity gap" between the two African cities—Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo—said the team in a blog post.

The cities are only three miles apart, but connecting them is difficult because traditional cable has to be routed around the river, making broadband much more expensive.

After installing Taara’s links to beam connectivity over the river, Taara’s link served nearly 700 TB of data—the equivalent of watching a FIFA World Cup match in HD 270,000 times—in 20 days with 99.9% availability, the team said. 

Remote areas desperately need better internet service to build local economies, tech entrepreneur Vaclav Vincalek told Lifewire in an email interview. 

"It provides an equal opportunity to participate in knowledge-based industries, get easier access to government services, and access to education," he said. "It also creates the opportunity for job creation and money infusion to communities that rely on traditional industries like mining or forestry."

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