As already reported in TeleRead, there is a huge ebook and internet opportunity out there in the rest of the world that is just coming online. And Google looks to be setting out to capture it. First there’s the Google Asia Pacific Blog’s announcement that Google is “building an engineering team in Singapore – to get closer to the next billion users coming online and to develop products that will work for them.” Then there’s Google’s internet infrastructure projects, like Project Skybender with its solar-powered drones, as reported in The Guardian, and Project Loon, its literally cloud-based balloon-borne internet solution, now reportedly ready for carrier testing.
These various projects fit together when you appreciate the conditions in the developing economies of Asia and elsewhere. As the Google blog points out, while “300 million people came online for the first time last year” according to UN statistics, “their main (and in most cases, only) ‘computer’ is a low-cost smartphone. Connectivity is expensive in relation to incomes, and frequently patchy.” Singapore, Google’s “hyper-connected” Asian jumping-off point, “sits at the center of a region with half of the world’s current Internet users, and more new Internet users coming online every day than anywhere else in the world.” Yet nearby Indonesia’s over 255 million people are scattered across a disconnected archipelago of over 14,000 islands. India and Bangladesh’s even larger populations are dismally underserved across vast rural hinterlands by underdeveloped infrastructure. Yet all these economies are now recording growth rates close to or exceeding China’s.
Obviously, high-speed wireless internet infrastructure makes far more sense for markets like these than fiber or other fixed-line solutions. Eweek quotes Astro Teller, head of the experimental products X group at Google’s parent entity Alphabet, as saying: “We’re now in commercial discussions with telcos around the world, and we’ll be flying over places like Indonesia for real service testing this year.” Project Loon can currently deliver connectivity of around 15 Mbps. The solar-powered Project Skybender drones could “transmit gigabits of data every second, up to 40 times more than today’s 4G LTE systems,” according to The Guardian.
Google, meanwhile, is busy canvassing for more engineers and technical staff in Singapore and Asia Pacific. “To bring fast and affordable access to more people around the world, we’ve been working on things like high-speed Wi-Fi in railway stations across India,” blogs Caesar Sengupta, Vice President at Google’s Next Billion Users Team. Android already has a huge edge in emerging markets across Asia and elsewhere, which initiatives like the ultra-cheap $3.67 Indian smartphone will only push still further. Apple and other competitors just don’t seem to have the commitment and edge in infrastructure to capture that opportunity. But Google looks to be the one set to deliver digital literacy – in the ebook sense and other contexts besides – across the world’s still unwired billions.