Google internet balloons and drones could boost GDP by trillions and save millions of lives

Expanding broadband access through wireless networks would be cheaper than building fixed wireline networks, however the benefits would be smaller, according to the Copenhagen Consensus latest study.

Reaching 90% of the world’s people with wireless service by 2030, up from 32% now, would produce economic gains of $17 for every $1 spent, it estimated. That’s below the $21 in benefits from a building out fixed broadband networks.

* this could provide over $22 trillion of GDP growth by 2030 ($2.2 trillion per year by getting to lifting developing world to the developed world 75% internet access)

* 160 million people could be lifted from poverty and 120 million jobs could be provided

Google internet balloons, drones and satellites could be the means to accelerate mobile internet deployment to the developing world. Facebook is also working on internet drones.

Deloitte estimates that extending internet access in developing economies to the level seen in developed countries can raise living standards and incomes by up to $600 per person a year, thus lifting 160 million people out of extreme poverty in the regions covered by this study.

The internet provides a route through which to improve awareness of diseases and provide information on health treatments. A number of free mobile-based and web-based applications exist in developing countries that provide information related to nutrition, hygiene and prevention of common illnesses. Evidence on the link between health literacy and mortality rates suggests that access to the internet has the potential to save nearly 2.5 million lives across the regions covered by this study, if they were to achieve the level of internet penetration seen in developed economies. In particular, Deloitte estimates that improved health information to expecting mothers and health workers could lead to a reduction of child mortality, saving 250,000 children who may otherwise have died during their first year of life.

If developing countries were to catch up with levels of internet access in developed economies today, they would reach a penetration level of around 75%, more than tripling the number of internet users from 800 million to 3 billion. This means that an additional 2.2 billion people would receive internet access; of these, 700 million would be in Africa, 200 million in Latin America and 1.3 billion in the Asian regions.

Deloitte estimates that increasing internet access to levels experienced in developed countries can increase the GDP of the regions considered by up to $2.2 trillion (an increase of 15%), with South and East Asia and India each gaining about $0.6 trillion in additional economic activity. Over ten years from 2020 to 2030 this would be a $22 trillion boost to GDP.

Output in Africa could increase by over $0.5 trillion. Across the developing world, this represents an increase in the GDP growth rate of over 72%: in India GDP growth rates have the potential to double, in Africa to grow by 92% and in South and East Asia to rise by 75%. These differences are based on GDP forecasts for the next years obtained from the IMF. They further highlight the potential impacts of internet access as a catalyst for economic growth, especially for regions, such as India, which are forecast to grow at a slower pace in the next years.

Google’s offering is called Google Free Zone. Through this two-year-old initiative, the company makes deals with mobile carriers in specific countries and agrees to pay the data charges of people who use Google search, Gmail or Google+.

Google Free Zone, as announced by Google on Nov. 8, 2012, operates in South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Nigeria and Kenya.

Facebook Zero, Wikipedia Zero and Google Free Zone are great for the relatively small number of people who live in the right countries and use participating carriers.

Subsidized data plans are possible only for people who live in areas where mobile connectivity exists. But billions of people live beyond the reach of any kind of Internet connection.

Google Project Loon is planning to use balloons to deliver internet access across the southern hemisphere. Google’s most recent test of Project Loon is taking place in Australia, where the company is partnering with Australian telecom Telstra. It’s launching 20 balloons over Queensland this month. There are also tests underway in New Zealand, California’s Central Valley and northeast Brazil.

There are about 75 Loon balloons in the air right now. By next year, Google intends to form a continuous, 50-mile-wide ring of Loon coverage that circles the Southern Hemisphere. The purpose of these tests is partly to demonstrate Project Loon to the telecommunications companies that may partner with Google on the management of local programs.

Google also announced recently that it’s already reaching its goal of keeping balloons aloft for around 100 days — in fact, one of its balloons remained airborne for 134 days

Facebook is interested in using high-flying drones to blanket parts of the world without Internet access, beginning with Africa. Earlier this year, Facebook acquired a consultancy called Ascenta. It was mainly an “aquihire” to get the founders, who developed Zephyr, which is the record holder for solar-powered drone flight, having put a solar drone in the sky for two weeks back in 2010.

Google acquired Titan Aerospace, a company originally sought by Facebook as a means to bring internet to remote parts of the globe.

11,000 of these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could provide internet to Africa. With Titan’s drones, Google could provide connectivity over longer distances, connecting their ring of internet balloons to other rings in remote areas.

the Solera 60 deliver over 250 lbs / 100kg to “atmospheric orbit”. They will fly for 5 years at 65000 feet altitude

In theory, a solar-powered drone capable of withstanding long flights at high altitude—in what Titan executives call the “sweet spot” in the Earth’s atmosphere between 60,000 and 70,000 feet, above nearly all weather patterns in a zone where winds are typically less than 5 knots (5.75 miles/hour)—would be able to perform tasks usually reserved for satellites at a much lower cost. A drone could be put up quickly, for much less initial capital. At the same time, it would provide targeted imagery at a cost of less than $5 per square kilometer—versus $35 per square kilometer from a satellite—while still offering the large area of coverage of a satellite

Earlier studies by the center found that $1 spent to alleviate childhood malnutrition would do $45 of good, while $1 spent on malaria would produce $35 of benefit. Each $1 spent to treat and research vaccines for HIV would generate $11 of gains.

“This doesn’t mean we should stop helping people with HIV and put all our money into broadband. But it suggests where the most development money should be focused,” said Bjorn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.

Comparisons between the benefits of HIV research and broadband access “infuriate a lot of people,” Lomborg admitted. But the goal of such studies is to influence debate on how an estimated $2.5 trillion of global development aid will be spent between 2015 and 2030, he added.

SOURCES – Computer World, Copenhagen Consensus, Forbes, Deloitte, Google Loon