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Forget the Internet, Brace for Skynet

Steve Saunders
10/15/2014

Greetings. I have seen the future of global communications. And because I'm such a nice person, I've decided I’m going to share it with you. (You can thank me later.)

It consists of a global network of thousands of ultra-high-altitude (65,000 feet, or 13 miles high) solar-powered drones, equipped with some variation of next-gen microwave wireless equipment, delivering broadband capacity to the entire planet.

I'm calling this drone network "Skynet," after the antagonist in the Terminator movies, and because I suspect that it might eventually be equally destructive (to existing telecom operator business models, that is).

Because when the various pieces of the technology puzzle that are required to make Skynet take off come together, there’s a high probability that everything you think you know about telecom will change, forever. Satellite comms? Cooked. Fiber networks and their operators? Eviscerated. Copper? By 2024, it'll be just another word for a Brit policeman. Think about this for a minute, and allow the implications to properly sink in. That's right, everything you think you know about high-capacity communications, and the current hegemony of traditional telco operators, gone (poof!).

Talk about your disruptive technology, eh?

How long will it take for the Skynet vision to become a reality? History gives us some guidance here. Science fiction legend and turkey doppelgänger Arthur C. Clarke predicted the advent of a global satellite communications network in 1945, but it took almost 20 years for it to become a reality. And a two-decade integer feels about right, to me, before the drone communications revolution is complete.

A Drone, Yesterday
Source: Titan Aerospace
Source: Titan Aerospace

Several important technology milestones need to be reached along the way. The drones that will make up Skynet have a lot more in common with satellites than the flippy-flappy helicopter drone thingies that the popular press is fixated on right now. They’re really effing BIG, for one thing. And, like satellites, they go up, and stay up, pretty much indefinitely. For that to happen, we need two things: lighter, higher-capacity wireless gear; and reliable, hyper-efficient solar tech.

So some work still needs to be done on the physics of Skynet; but not that much work, and certainly not anything beyond the reach of hard-working American (or Chinese, or Chinese-American) engineering types. Unlike the Skynet of Arnie's Terminator films, we’re not talking about science fiction here.

The maximum payload of the heavy drones being developed by Google's Titan Aerospace unit is maybe 70 pounds, though 200 pounds should be achievable within a few years. Cellular technology is much too heavy and slow to be used for Skynet connectivity, but low-power (30-35 watt), high-capacity (gigabit plus), high-frequency (8-24 GHz) technology – based on inexpensive WiFi radio technology – that weighs a lot less than that limit is already under development, according to Jaime Fink, a wireless guru who serves as Chief Product Officer at Mimosa Networks Inc. , a high-capacity wireless broadband startup.

Of course, the radios will need to be built to withstand extreme temperatures, play nice with GPS, and act as a two-way transceiver to connect back to the Internet on the ground. Because there ain’t no backhaul in space!

Similarly, solar tech (which, let’s be honest, has all been a bit shit until now) needs to come on a ways before we can really trust these drones to stay up in the stratosphere where they belong. But everything points to that happening, as well.

That said, the most interesting part of the drone comms story doesn’t have as much to do with technology as people, and the companies they work for, as well as the regulatory/legal shenanigans surrounding the knotty issue of wireless spectrum allocation, and the small matter of who owns the "air rights" up at 65,000 feet.

Right now, the two companies making the most aggressive moves in the next-gen drone comms market are Facebook and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG). (See Facebook, Google in New Drone Race.) That's partly because they employ lots of people who sit around playing gemmed and pondering the "future and stuff," but much more because they have really vast amounts of money to throw at projects like this. But that doesn't mean they're necessarily the best qualified companies to run the Skynet. I mean, do you really want the future of the world’s communications in the hands of an Internet search firm and a social media company? (To paraphrase The Byrds: "Sixteen miles… but when they come down…").

I don't. And a lot of lawmakers and regulators probably feel the same way. But that doesn't mean they’re going to stop Google or Facebook from launching squadrons of heavy drones over North America. In fact, according to one source close to the FAA, the general feeling in the corridors of power there right now is that they can't afford not to let them do what they want in the skies over North America, lest all that drone comms money and innovation head overseas.

As usual, the "media" (consumer, business, and tech) have completely and utterly missed this story, focusing their coverage on the military and consumer applications of drone technology (an extra allocation of "stupid points" go to the editors of Wired Magazine for rejecting our drone communications pitch when we dropped it in their lap earlier this year, in response to their request for important and original technology predictions… way to suck at this prognostication thing, Wiretards).

So, with this article, Light Reading is going on the record as the first publication to predict this future. (I'll be printing this column out and burying it in a lead-lined time capsule later, obviously.)

And this is just the beginning of our coverage of this market.

As befits our role as the leading authority in the telecom market, we plan to be the central point of information on this market, as it develops (Wired Magazine gets to continue being the authority on the Internet of Things That Don’t Matter, or IoTDM).

Later this year, we're launching Light Droning (www.lightdroning.com), a new Light Reading site all about drone comms. And in February 2015, Light Reading editor Dan Jones -- who actually predicted the above-the-clouds comms revolution all the way back in 2005 -- and myself will be hosting a conference on the future of drone communications in San Diego. It’s called DroneComm 2015; please drop me a line at [email protected] if you want to speak at this event, or just want to come along.

Meantime, my friends, if you want to see the future of telecommunications, look up.

— Stephen Saunders, Founder and CEO, Light Reading

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VictorRBlake
VictorRBlake
10/15/2014 | 8:28:58 AM
Reliable
Putting aside bandwidth efficiency of microwave, interferrence between them, and a host of other issues. Does anyone really believe that we humans can make machines reliable enough to stay in the air ? Yes satellites stay in place (if geo stationary) beacuse of gravity doing the work, but if we build machines with moving parts they are far lower reliability and they will fail (often I might add). If anything our advances in technology have shown us that over time our technologies have become less and less reliable. This is in part because we (and I mean the global we) are designing systems to be disposable.
DanJones
DanJones
10/15/2014 | 9:20:46 AM
Re: Reliable
The teams that Facebook and Google bought started with the aim of building solar platforms that stay up for a long time.
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
10/15/2014 | 1:24:48 PM
Re: Reliable
There are a few options that could solve the breakdown problem: Repair the devices in place -- we can already refuel planes in flight, which suggests that repairs are also posslbe; bring the drones down and repair them; treat the drones as disposable, and when they break down, just bring them down and cannibalize them for parts.
VictorRBlake
VictorRBlake
10/15/2014 | 2:43:49 PM
Re: Reliable
I'm skeptical of repair in flight. What repair in flight means is redundancy (to keep it flying -- add extra propulsion, etc.). All of that means more weight which kills efficiency which lowers the probability of long term (indefnite) flight powered by external sources.


In any event, there are numerous other challenges such as keeping them in place during severe weather, backhaul as another reader commented, etc.
DanJones
DanJones
10/15/2014 | 2:59:44 PM
Re: Reliable
Weather

The model Titan Aerospace was talking about before Google bought was called the Solara. It was a featherweight craft intended to fly at 65,000 feet for 5 years. Above commercial aircraft and above the clouds.

Backhaul

As Mimosa's Jamie Fink said, it has to be a transciever on board.
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/15/2014 | 3:21:33 PM
Re: Reliable
VitorRblake, i agree.

repair in flight should really be called "in flight hot sparing" because nothing is actually getting repaired- it;s just getting rerouted or switched over. 

What i  want is a drone with an on board mechanical droid/Mr Fixit which scrambles around bashing gremlins and tweaking solar panels. 

 
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/15/2014 | 3:12:13 PM
Re: Reliable
Hi VictorRBlake, 

" Does anyone really believe that we humans can make machines reliable enough to stay in the air ?"

The predicted "hang time" for the heavy drones of the future is five years. Is that achievable. I don't know. But i thin kwe can be sure that Google and Facebook are arrogant enough to think they are smart enough to pull it off, and the FAA is probably weak-kneed enough to let them try. 

I do think we will see accidents and fatalities before the revolution is complete. No question.

SS

 

 
melao2
melao2
10/15/2014 | 8:32:39 AM
Are we at light reading or not ?
Don't ever say that Optical communication will be over, we are at lightreading, this site started as a Optical Networking news and industry coverage site. And that's why I joined it in 2000. :)

 

Anyway, now being serious, this is indeed disruptive, but honestly fiber optics are here to stay for a long time just because of the physical limitations involved in wireless communications. The medium cannot handle the same bandwidth as in fibers, so they are here to stay.

 
DanJones
DanJones
10/15/2014 | 9:31:25 AM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
There are places in the world where the fiber optics never happened, hence part of the search for alternatives.
melao2
melao2
10/15/2014 | 9:52:54 AM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
There are places where mobile newtorks never happened.

but going back to our reality, do you really think that for high bandwidth long haul transmission any wireless technology, be it satelite or drones or whatever, will be able to cope with the increasing bandwitdh demands? 

I think "skynet" will bring ubiquity, but for the really high speed transfers required for the future, we still need the good old optical backbone.
brooks7
brooks7
10/15/2014 | 10:14:23 AM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
See Iridium.

 

seven
mendyk
mendyk
10/15/2014 | 11:50:33 AM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
"Almost anything is possible. " -- Ned Yost
DanJones
DanJones
10/15/2014 | 1:07:31 PM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
Well, Intel and Qualcomm are interested where drones are going  in the IoT sphere. And Facebook and Google have been working on it for a while.

Should we just ignore that?
DOShea
DOShea
10/15/2014 | 1:24:19 PM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
Google certainly has its fingers in a lot of pies these days. If it's getting into drone networking, it'll be interesting to see if it is more serious and aggressive about that sector than it has been about fiber broadband, which it still kind of treats as a hobby.
DanJones
DanJones
10/15/2014 | 1:32:15 PM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
Interestingly, they've been updating their Mountain View WiFi network though.
brooks7
brooks7
10/15/2014 | 2:01:57 PM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
Quick estimate. If you cover a radius of 10 miles the continental us would require at least 10, 000 drones up at all times. Not sure how many subs per drone, but clearly urban/suburban environments would require more. Also I am unclear how we backhaul all this. Seven
DanJones
DanJones
10/15/2014 | 2:42:57 PM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
This will probably start as a way to get  Internet to underserved parts of Africa, where Internet penetration is around 16% now, in particular parts of sub-Saharan Africa, which is cronically underserved.

On a serious note, that means places like Sierra Leone, currently in the grip of the Ebola crisis. Can't help but think that better Internet access could actually help in that tragic situation.
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/15/2014 | 3:23:07 PM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
"This will probably start as a way to get  Internet to underserved parts of Africa, where Internet penetration is around 16% now, in particular parts of sub-Saharan Africa, which is cronically underserved."

not sure i agrew there Jonesy ... i think the drones will be launched over the areas where there is the biggest financial incentive to launch them, and that's not subsaharan africa. 

I tell you what, it wouldn't e the first time the West had got an upgrade beyind what it really needed while rest of world languished in dial up hell. 

 
DanJones
DanJones
10/15/2014 | 6:31:26 PM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
It really depends who is deploying the technology. What's driving Google and Facebook is Internet & mobile Internet ad revenues. That's why they want to connect people who aren't connected. 

 

 
DanJones
DanJones
10/15/2014 | 6:36:48 PM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
At least that's what they *say*.
jabailo
jabailo
10/15/2014 | 9:48:58 PM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
It's also a "defensive move" in the sense of having a fallback means to let their customers access them.
danielcawrey
danielcawrey
10/15/2014 | 8:54:46 PM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
Makes sense to me. I think with drone communication tech, we'll be awash in internet everywhere. That's going to be necessary – the number of devices connected to the internet is going to explode in the coming years. 
jabailo
jabailo
10/15/2014 | 9:51:09 PM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
Makes you wonder if the real action is still going to be on the ground.  At the point that Everything has a wifi chip, maybe we'll get back to the concept of a Mesh Network.  That is what the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project envisioned with its $100 PC ($100 for a device...hah...whatever they thinking, that could never happen -- ok, sarcasm filter back on).   
melao2
melao2
10/17/2014 | 4:52:11 PM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
Hi Dan, in my initial comment i just meant to say that this will certainly be incredible in terms of wide scale deployments. It will bring ubiquity.

But it will certainly not replace fibers because of the bandwidth requirements in many applications.
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/15/2014 | 3:25:49 PM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
"I think "skynet" will bring ubiquity, but for the really high speed transfers required for the future, we still need the good old optical backbone."

Interesting thought. It really depends whether software developers continue to develop packages that fill as much bandwidth as they have available to them, or try to work within some sort of gigabit limitation. I mean, a gigabit is a huge amount of capacity. You can do a lot oiwth that if you try. Cmpanies like apple are clearly not trying very hard!!!!!

 
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/15/2014 | 3:14:39 PM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
melao2... 

"the medium cannot handle the same bandwidth as in fibers, so they are here to stay"

you are not wrong! 

But, that doesn't mean that a global skynet of housands of high capacity drones couldn't upset a few tleco business models, right?!

:) 
melao2
melao2
10/17/2014 | 4:47:14 PM
Re: Are we at light reading or not ?
Hi Steve, disruptive? yes.  Replace fibers? No.

That was my point :) 

 

It will bring quick ubiquity for telecom services in a wide scale and fast deployment. It is extremely disruptive.
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/17/2014 | 4:39:52 PM
ooh... this is interesting
Jonesy just pointed out this company: 

http://airware.com/

Makes an airtraffic control system for the drone future... which is something that might come in handy when you have tens of thousands of them all of the palce. 

BACKED BY KLEINER. I've heard of them. 

If KP is funding startups in this space it may not be as far out as i first thought. 
mendyk
mendyk
10/17/2014 | 4:47:28 PM
Re: ooh... this is interesting
Maybe Kleiner needs to park some of the boatload of money they made on cleantech. Oh, wait...
PaulERainford
PaulERainford
10/15/2014 | 9:15:37 AM
Drone goal
Drones - they're certainly disruptive: 

Serbia v Albania ends in riot after drone flag stunt – video

 
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/15/2014 | 3:18:38 PM
Re: Drone goal
Paul, i think the drone thing just gave the news writers a peg to hang that story on. Let's face it, Serbia and albania was ALWAYS going to end in a punch up
ethertype
ethertype
10/15/2014 | 2:08:49 PM
Already 2 decades in
Before you get too breathless about how this will change the world in two decades, you might note that this concept has been around for over two decades already.  NASA and AeroVironment built a series of high-altitude solar aircraft from the mid-90's, and were heading toward the sustainable flight goal, but that all stopped when the Helios craft crashed in 2003.
rccoffin
rccoffin
10/15/2014 | 2:16:42 PM
Re: Already 2 decades in
I had the pleasure to work with some startups back in the 90's - substitute the dirigibles with the drones. Eventually this idea will work.

http://www.spacedaily.com/news/skystation-98a.html
DanJones
DanJones
10/15/2014 | 2:28:28 PM
Re: Already 2 decades in
Yeah, there were a few companies doing the blimp thing. I recall having a lot of fun with Sanswire.
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/15/2014 | 3:23:52 PM
Re: Already 2 decades in
Dan - what happened to the blimpers?? Did they go bust (or.. pop?!?! hahahahaha... did you see what i did therE?)
DanJones
DanJones
10/15/2014 | 4:26:31 PM
Re: Already 2 decades in
Most of them. Google has Project Loon, of course, which is high-altitude balloons.
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/15/2014 | 4:53:41 PM
Re: Already 2 decades in
What's loon about, do you think? Just hedging their bets or a different app altogether?
DanJones
DanJones
10/15/2014 | 5:41:19 PM
Re: Already 2 decades in
Too soon to know for sure.
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/15/2014 | 6:13:16 PM
Re: Already 2 decades in
i hate the name. 

"Wank" 

 
jabailo
jabailo
10/15/2014 | 9:47:59 PM
Re: Already 2 decades in
Balloons would make sense but perhaps to connect them with a solar powered engine to move them around.  Why would you want to have to support any equipment, even light weight electronics, when a gas could do that for you?

 
DanJones
DanJones
10/15/2014 | 2:46:15 PM
Re: Already 2 decades in
Yeah, people are also already experimenting with drones flying at more regular heights as comms platforms for disaster recovery connectivity etc.
edkellyus
edkellyus
10/15/2014 | 7:33:04 PM
Skynet+++
Skynet as you envisaged with drones may not be feasible, but "there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy"

Titan (Google) and Ascenta (Facebook) have serious technical hurdles to overcome. Their first problem is they are only trying to station keep at a max wind speed of 30m/s at 20km altitude. This is insufficient even for India/Pakistan/Bangladesh where the wind speed at 20km can exceed 35m/s. A more realistic max that would cover operations above latitude 30 where it is possible to encounter the wandering polar vortex is 50m/s. Power required increases with velocity cubed, so thats a far off dream.

Their second problem is energy storage. They need to run on batteries for a min of 14 hours during darkness at latitude 30. Each 1KW needs 14kWh of battery storage. LiPo is 200Wh/kg so each KW of power needs 70Kg of storage. The drones are about 5KW at 30m/s. Thats 350kg, right at or over the edge of the total mass budget.

Both these problems put the drones in the not ready for prime time category. They will work in light winds but won't be able to station keep reliably until better energy storage comes along. Titan's CEO said as much before they were bought by Google.

Darpa pulled development for Boeing's Solar Eagle drone after a couple of years and is now only focusing on developing fuel cells/electrolyzers for energy storage using high pressure hydrogen gas. That reinforces the energy storage problem.

The Various High altitude airships, including Lockheed's ill fated HALE-D were only trying to meet an inadequate 20m/s spec, but could not even get close to that. Getting sufficient power from the area available for PV panels, and adequate energy storage within the mass budget constrain their operational envelope.

All may not be lost. Deep throat's advice "Follow the money" might lead you to a far more significant version of Skynet than you have envisaged. It might be more accurately named SPACENET, though I do like Skynet better. Both Google and Facebook are publicaly on record for spending billions on satellite constellations. The WorldVU venture led by Greg Wyler (recently departed from Google) sheds some light on what may be contemplated. 360 low earth orbit satellites forming a private, global, data communications network with point to point links between satellites and radio communications to the ground stations with Kymeta beam forming antenna. Technologies like Free Space Optical links and DWDM are openly discussed. Bi section bandwidth of a mesh network could easily exceed 20Tb/s initially and lots more later.

There is a technology that can station keep at 20km altitude in 50m/s winds that my company is developing that would make a far better SkyNet than thousands of drones, but it is a hard sell. This blog covers some communications perspectives. http://www.stratosolar.com/blog So, while I think your Skynet with drones may not come to pass, there are very interesting things afoot in the "Skynet" neighborhood.

By Edmund Kelly
Attochron
Attochron
10/16/2014 | 2:30:05 PM
Lasers on Skynet...
Nice article -- it is a brave new world and it will need backhaul. Have a look at what Attochron and the Virginia Military Institute (both in Lexington, VA) are up to. Attochron has the global rights for lasercoms using ultrashort pulse lasers -- the only ones that show promise for getting through the clouds in this scenario of 'drone-net'.  http://www9.vmi.edu/media/ironline/october2014/index.html
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/16/2014 | 2:32:29 PM
Re: Lasers on Skynet...
Attochron sounds very interesting. We will check it out. (Or, more specifically, Dan Jones will ... [email protected]

 

:) 
Attochron
Attochron
10/16/2014 | 2:58:25 PM
Re: Lasers on Skynet...
Thank you, looking forward to talking with Dan Jones. Best, Tom Chaffee, CEO 
palat
palat
10/16/2014 | 5:59:42 PM
Skynet Business Case
What is the business case for Skynet? How will service providers make money out of this in today's world when high speed fiber networks are getting faster and cheaper.

Back in the 90s, there was similar excitement and buzz when the Iridium satellite phone system was launched. From a technology standpoint, it was an amazing idea - single phone, single number that provided ubiquitous global coverage. The only problem was that there was no real business case for Iridium.
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/16/2014 | 6:24:00 PM
Re: Skynet Business Case
interesting comment. The business case for Skynet is based on a few assumptions, i think

1. gigabit speeds are "enough" for the apps that the world of 20 years time will need 

2. drones and the kit in them are cheap enough and the coverage is widespread enough that they can take on the conomics of the fibernet universe 

Those are some big "if"s, i grant you. 

Your Iridium comment has given me pause, i admit it. Is that really a valid comparison?? (I hope not!) 

I thought Iridiium died because the phones were huge and expensive, never got smaller and cheaper, and the company was run by giant assholes. 

SS

 

 

 
R Clark
R Clark
10/16/2014 | 9:50:01 PM
Re: Skynet Business Case
Iridium died because the phones wouldn't work inside, plus GSM roaming came along.

THe attraction of drones must be that they are easy and inexpensive to set up and tear down, which would make them useful for military comms and Burning Man. They won't deliver the same bandwidth as fibre and hard to see a base station 13 miles up can provide better wireless peformance than one 50m away, but could be a really good option to bring comms to the 5 billion unconnected.

 

 

 
MikeP688
MikeP688
10/17/2014 | 12:41:16 AM
Re: Skynet Business Case
As I read through these comments, my question was "why not"?   I was actually quite tempted to rent a satellite phone during a retreat--and it would be extremely welcome to help transform the existing scene.  I hope all agree are needed ever more. 
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/20/2014 | 10:12:57 AM
Re: Skynet Business Case
"Iridium died because the phones wouldn't work inside,"

LOL!

 

I'd forgotten that! Yes, a bit of a fatal flaw. 

I remember Iridium and their huge booth at Telecom '99. I was filming a video news story there and there were about 40 iridium people outside talking on their big yellow satellite phones so we started filiming using them as a nice background and a PR person from Iridium came out and saw what we were doing and shooed them all inside.

Where... all their calls dropped. 

I just rememeber thinking, what a dick. we're giving you free publicity. Then they all lost their jobs, which seems fitting really. 

 

  
f_goldstein
f_goldstein
10/20/2014 | 3:14:58 PM
Re: Skynet Business Case
Yes, Iridium phones were unable to work inside, or even in cars, or even under trees.  I was at ADL when we were testing them for the technical DD, and had some early phones.  In order to try them, we had to go outside and avoid the trees, so we'd have a clear shot to the sky.  This however inspired a marketing slogan that alas the Iridium folks never picked up on.

Iridium: For people who are out standing in their fields.

 
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/20/2014 | 4:42:10 PM
Re: Skynet Business Case
Iridium 

for when you leave our village, to go to the next farm 
R Clark
R Clark
10/21/2014 | 2:31:18 AM
Re: Skynet Business Case
I was at a Motorola event at Schaumberg in 1999 where the PR people shepherded us outside to try the Iridium phones. You could see even they were thinking WTF.
Liz Lloyd
Liz Lloyd
10/21/2014 | 4:32:32 PM
Re: Skynet Business Case
Reading this article triggered a memory of a company in the late 90s that talked about fibre speed via satellite. Does anyone know what happened to Teledesic?
R Clark
R Clark
10/21/2014 | 9:21:34 PM
Re: Skynet Business Case
Teledesic was a Craig McCaw project broadband satellite project that got killed off in the early 2000s after the collapse of the telephony satellite projects (Iridium, Globalstar, ICO) and with the arrival of mass DSL broadband.
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/23/2014 | 3:55:08 PM
Re: Skynet Business Case
ONE FOR FUN

Drone Racing!!!

http://digg.com/video/racing-drones-through-a-forest-feels-a-lot-like-the-star-wars-speeder-chase

(Thanks sylvie!)

 
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/21/2014 | 4:52:33 PM
Re: Skynet Business Case
seems like they were forever herding the journalists around with their giant, heavy shitphones 
brooks7
brooks7
10/16/2014 | 11:44:24 PM
Re: Skynet Business Case
Steve,

I was the one that made the Iridium comment.

Here was my point.  Iridium had its challenges technically and the big one for me was that it was different.  Go back to the article.  If you fly these things at 65Kft, that is just over 12 miles if the drone is right overhead.  

That says to me that the wireless is not commone with cellular and require their own antennas.  I think indoors will potentially be an issue as will density in cities (especially with reflections).  The same will be true in mountains, canyons and other rough terrain.  

Secondly, I did my estimate of 10K drones and I did my own guesstimate of 10K each (that seems low to me but hey).  That is a $100M project.  Let's make an estimate (again a wild a$$ guess) of 20% failure per year (weather, mechanical, whatever).  So, let's say that replacements cost $20M per year.  That doesn't include the cost of transporting the traffic.

My confusion is that I am unclear on how this is really going to be any cheaper than a wireless buildout with a microwave backhaul.

Finally, I thought someone might bring up some space based options.  Clearly we couldn't do a geosynchronous orbit thing - we already have that.  Iridium is older but should give us plenty of cost insight on a Low Earth Orbit capability.

I am not saying there is no place for drone based networks.  I just don't see them as cheaper than a standard wireless buildout in most cases.

seven

 
mendyk
mendyk
10/17/2014 | 11:00:16 AM
Re: Skynet Business Case
seven -- From what I remember, LEO satellites had a usable orbit life expectancy of 10 to 15 years -- which made the whole proposition questionable from a financial standpoint to begin with. The Iridium idea was conceived when terrestrial cellular networks were rare, and pagers were state of the art. By the time Iridium got to deployment, the world had changed dramatically. That can be a huge issue when you're looking at a 20-year deployment window.
brooks7
brooks7
10/17/2014 | 12:49:52 PM
Re: Skynet Business Case
 

Dennis,

I absolutely agree with what you are saying and just want to point out it applies here as well.  Unless they are planning to backhaul via satellite, then a terrestrial infrastructure has to be built.

I see the whole bit of emergency service or event service where things are limited in scope.

What I have not yet figured out is let's take Western Colorado (West of the Rocky Mountains) and figure out how many drones we would need to cover that area.  Because that is what we are talking about right?  

Now, let's think about how the drones are going to get the information back to larger areas.  Are we building a set of antennas that are then fiber backhauled?  What I am asking is What is the Usaage Case for Permanent Drone Coverage? In what cases is that cheaper than building a Cellular Network?

Again, the technology from Drone to Ground User seems unlikely to be regular 4G networks.  The device on the ground needs to transmit back.  I don't think we have enough power in a regular phone/wireless dongle to reach back the 12 miles to the drone (at least 12 miles).  So, that tells me that the transmitter and technology is custom.

If we are talking about temporary/emergency service, we should be able to fly lower and reduce the power.  Then we can let folks use regular 4G devices.  

So, I am confused why we think this is a broad based idea.  That is what I am asking folks to define for me. 

seven

 
mendyk
mendyk
10/17/2014 | 1:43:05 PM
Re: Skynet Business Case
seven -- Some of "we" are bullish on comm drones. Others are not. At the risk of being cast as Light Reading's Ned Ludd, I will state for the record that I'm in the latter group.
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/17/2014 | 3:11:41 PM
Re: Skynet Business Case
Dennis/Seven, you guys are thinking way too small...

The surface area of the earth is 196.9 million sq miles 

Each drone covers 500 sq miles

Ergo you need only 338,000 drones to cover the ENTIRE PLANET. 

Once we stsart mass producing these puppies in china the ppd (price per drone) is going to be less than $250k so our investment here isn't even a trillion dollars! Less than $85 billion to be exact! 

I mean, we spend more on wars in Iraq every year.

Cowboy up guys ... time to go stratospheric.  

:) 

 

 

 
mendyk
mendyk
10/17/2014 | 3:30:15 PM
Re: Skynet Business Case
Considering that 70% of the planet's surface is covered with water -- likely to be closer to 75% in 20 years' time accounting for global warming -- your cost estimates may be on the, um, high side. Also by that time, five-nines reliability will be almost forgotten about. So keep the faith!
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/17/2014 | 3:34:51 PM
Re: Skynet Business Case
ah, but you are forgetting the floating cities of the future Dennis. 

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/07/pictures/120730-future-floating-cities-science-green-environment/

Another LR venture, Light Hydration? 

 
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/20/2014 | 10:22:46 AM
Re: Skynet Business Case
Hi Brooks, 

If this was a really a 100m buildout then i think that would qualify this as the bargain of the century! But we will probably need to multiple by 10. Or 100. 

In any case, let's see how it all plays out. 

The in building thing isn't an issue because the handsets don't communicate with the drone. They communicate with a base station which communicates through the uplink to the drone... so there is no Iridium type problem here. 

Cheers, 

SS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
brooks7
brooks7
10/20/2014 | 12:28:18 PM
Re: Skynet Business Case
Hi Steve,

In general, I agree with your point...but...

What I actually wrote was that the Drones would cost $100M to Manufacture and likely require something like $20M annually to get new ones to replace failures.  The numbers are an absolute guess and are meant to be an order of mangitude type calculation.

However, as far as I can tell you will need an extensive backhaul buildout which won't cost much less than the backhaul of a terrestrial network.

I wasn't trying to imply a real world operating cost and I could be off by a factor of 10 or so.

seven

 
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/20/2014 | 2:42:45 PM
Re: Skynet Business Case
Seven, got it. Thanks for the clarification.  

 

SS
f_goldstein
f_goldstein
10/17/2014 | 6:10:21 PM
Misses what an internet is
Even if a drone (or even a Queen Bee) network in the sky became practical, it would not replace the Intenret.  Rather, an internet (of which The Internet is a prototype) is a network of networks, a layer above the underlying transport. Thus we can access the Internet via fiber, DSL, fixed or mobile wireless, or whatever else can carry its packets.  Add another underlying network and you've grown, not replaced, the Internet.

But realisitcally, the flying-AP model is really best for rural areas, not a substitute for decent terrestrial stuff.  And Jaime Fink is one of the smartest guys in the business, but even the beam-forming APs that Mimosa announced this week won't handle much of the load in a city from a stratospheric vantage point.
Steve Saunders
Steve Saunders
10/17/2014 | 6:13:13 PM
Re: Misses what an internet is
f-goldstein... agreed on the Internet stuff. The headline was a blatant attention grab :)

Happy friday. 
nasimson
nasimson
10/30/2014 | 10:38:13 PM
another Iradium?
Its one of the most forward looking articles I have read in recent times. Truly inspirational. It has the potential to trip status quo if it proves successful in any part of the world. But even if it happens its decades away. I hope it has a different fate than Iradium.
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