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"Let me be even more clear: The Internet already exists in Africa!"
March 10, 2014 12:13 PM   Subscribe

Why flying 'Internet drones' over Africa is a dumb, libertarian fantasy
posted by infini (48 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
The worst, most borderline-racist part of the article is the assumption that a single Ghanaian urban office setting is representative of an entire continent.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:19 PM on March 10 [8 favorites]


Its impressive that he visited every country in Africa to make such a rounded assessment of the continenents connectivity. Oh wait. He was just in Ghana, and a bit of Nigeria.

I do work with an NGO that has presence in some of Africa's poorest countries, and there are definitely some serious connectivity problems.
posted by memebake at 12:25 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]


a dumb, libertarian fantasy

Are there other kinds of libertarian fantasies?

But seriously, it's odd that people are picking at the "this is just one guy in Ghana" angle because though he may have certain narrow biases, he's right. This does seem to be yet another in the long line of half-baked projects cooked up by Westerners to "save" Africa without regard for the actual people there and what's going on on the ground. This does seem especially true of the techno-libertarian Silicon Valley overlords and their ethos of "disruption" that will save the world one click at a time.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:27 PM on March 10 [29 favorites]


So, this guy goes on a business trip to Ghana, and is then qualified to tell us all that Internet access in Africa is fine? I can say from my own experience that this is definitely not the case everywhere. When I was in Gabon last summer, getting internet access was a major problem -- even at the national technical university. Gabon is not a particularly poor or corrupt or struggling country by developing world standards, but information infrastructure is severely lacking.

Your choices were to go into town to the one hotel in Franceville (Gabon's second-largest city) with WiFi, or to go to a cybercafe. Neither was free and the latter was rarely worth it, as connections were often so slow that it was literally impossible to even load a webpage. I encountered a similar lack of access in every city and town I visited in that country. Cell phones were ubiquitous, but only for voice (not data) and reception was only available in major towns and cities, not in rural or semirural areas.

It's a serious problem there, especially (in my experience) for researchers. Almost everything we do in the sciences these days is tied to the internet. Papers are accessed electronically on the web, email and skype are primary forms of communication for collaborators, public databases are all online, the software that we use is generally provided for download on the creators' websites, etc. Not having reliable internet access is crippling for a scientist -- it cuts him or her off from the rest of the community and many of the fundamental tools and resources of her or his trade. Maybe it's better in Ghana, but Ghana != Africa.

I'm not saying that net drones are the solution, cos' they aren't, but this guy sure ain't no expert on the situation either.
posted by Scientist at 12:30 PM on March 10 [8 favorites]


Wow, this is an incredibly stupid article, from the point that memebake made, all the way up to the idea that Loon and whatever drone solution Facebook come up with are libertarian (huh?) because they involve delivering service from the sky instead of from the ground (double huh?). I might quote more, but I stopped reading at that point.

I realize that its hip to hate on Google and Facebook these days, but sometimes the employees of those companies just do things because they perceive it to be the most efficient and effective way to solve a problem such as connecting those people in Africa who are not yet connected.
posted by Inkoate at 12:30 PM on March 10 [7 favorites]


He's got a point here:

Essentially, these companies are trying to reap the reward of encouraging more people to use their services, such as WhatsApp, without doing the messy work that carriers and handset makers such as Nokia and Samsung do; that is, actually setting up businesses on the ground, paying taxes that help fund development and social services, employing and training that nation’s citizens, not to mention building real relationships.

What is it about Facebook's and Google's aversion to paying taxes? I thought that paying taxes was cool, non?
posted by dabitch at 12:30 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]


Actually there are sound technical reasons for this. When I worked at Ericsson in the 1990s there was a great deal of research into airborne mobile platforms. From satellites (teledesic and Iridium) to airplanes and balloons. Balloons, blimbs more precisely, were attractive do to the modest radio link budgets needed compared to satellites. But unattractive because blimps. The problem was always the aerial platform, not the idea of putting a base station a few miles above the Earth's surface. A drone could solve the platform problem giving you "satellite" coverage with normal mobile phones.
posted by three blind mice at 12:36 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]


If you ask me, what we need in the developing world as far as internet access is inexpensive satellite internet providers. Traditional fiber and copper is really difficult because you need to physically run it from Point A to Point B, and there frequently aren't good roads going to Point B along which to run the cables, and once you get there there may or may not be electricity. Satellite would fix that, but as far as I know it currently costs an arm and a leg in most of that part of the world. I get that launching satellites ain't cheap and that it's going to be hard to get enough capacity up in orbit to route a continent's worth of bandwidth, but to me anyway it seems like the way to go.

I suppose though that cellular data networks might get there first, since they already have a lot of the relevant infrastructure in place. That costs an arm and a leg too though over there (by which I mean in Gabon and whatever other parts of the world face similar situations) and it's not clear to me that it's going to become widely available soon. I know if it were available and affordable though then academics at least would be rushing to buy cellular modems for their laptops.

Maybe what would work would be local co-ops. A group of people in a town, village, or institution such as a university could group together to fund a central satellite link with enough bandwidth for their needs, and then could distribute the bandwidth from there via a router. Of course, a lot of that sort of thing is controlled by the government (I know that a lot of the reason why USTM doesn't have an internet connection is that the Gabonese government bureaucracy hasn't gotten around to assigning them one) so it may not be too realistic.

I've looked into this sort of thing for fieldwork in the past (not co-ops, but portable satellite service) and it exists but boy oh boy is it ever expensive. Hopefully either prices will come down or infrastructure will improve. In fact, I'm sure one or the other will happen – it's just a matter of how soon and how fast. The desire is definitely there, the need is there, and in most cases there is an awareness that the need and desire exists. What's lacking is funding, infrastructure, and in some cases political backing (which often means knowing the right person in the right bureau). It will happen and is happening, but for now it's definitely a real problem in much of Africa.
posted by Scientist at 12:42 PM on March 10


My perspective, I should repeat, comes from my own personal experience working in one part of Africa (Gabon), and from my conversations with my Gabonese colleagues and collaborators who live and work there. I'm sure that my understanding is incomplete and in places inaccurate, but I've tried to relate the situation accurately to the best of my understanding as I perceived it and as it was related to me by the people who are living it.
posted by Scientist at 12:44 PM on March 10


Yeah, satellites make sense. The US doesn't have a space program anymore though, do they? The US is welcome to tag along in northern Swedish launches. if they want, I'm sure.
posted by dabitch at 12:45 PM on March 10


Actually, you know what would be super cool? A non-profit satellite ISP (or a philanthropic program within a for-profit one) that provided service to customers in the developed world at market or slightly-above-market rates, and which used those funds to provide low-cost or no-cost service and hardware to customers in the developing world. The developed-world customers would (as an act of charity) be essentially paying for two peoples' internet access: theirs, and that of someone else in the developing world who needed it but couldn't afford it. I doubt it would scale to the point of putting an entire multi-billion-person fraction of the Earth's population online, but it would still be a neat thing.
posted by Scientist at 12:48 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]


Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa have some of the most developed infrastructure in the entire continent. Not good examples!

And every country/region is very different. In the Sahel, internet is truly everywhere, but with horrendous speeds. You can connect via your phone and like a Facebook post. Good luck uploading an mp3 though. High res, big files are actually impossible to work with, even in the capital cities. Meanwhile, an acquaintance who just left for the DRC told me they're still using telegraphs. So it really depends on the region.
posted by iamck at 12:49 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


Maybe everyone involved in this discussion has an incomplete view of Africa, including any potential local African commentators, and it would be best if this was handled on a nation-by-nation or at least regional basis, instead of treating an entire continent like a country.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:50 PM on March 10 [11 favorites]


dabitch: "The US doesn't have a space program anymore though, do they?"

OK, I swear I am going to go away after this comment, but that's not really true. We don't currently have our own manned launches, but we sure launch plenty of cargo. Just because we retired the Space Shuttle (which needed to be done, but goddammit I wish they'd been able to get funding to finish developing the next generation human-capable orbiter first) doesn't mean we can't put up satellites. There are also lots of existing satellites that can and do route internet traffic, and it would presumably be possible to buy bandwidth on some of those.
posted by Scientist at 12:50 PM on March 10 [6 favorites]


The problem with satellites is that they are never closer than 200 miles (low Earth orbit) and this is a long way for a radio signal to travel. This means the handset has to have a large antenna, a powerful RF amplifier, and a power hungry low noise amplifier. Things which are incompatible with low cost, battery operated handsets.

Moreover, satellites in LEO must be numerous to provide continuous coverage (iridium envisaged 66, Teledesic over 800 at medimum Earth orbit). Satellites in LEO don't last very long (molecular oxygen in the orbital path is hard on the gear.) there is a reason why Iridium was never more than Dysprosium and why Teledesic never launched a single satellite.

Nope. The wacko Libertarian is the only one who studied physics.
posted by three blind mice at 12:55 PM on March 10


Actually, such "philanthropy" wouldn't be a good idea, Scientist, which is one of the core points of the piece. Africa needs a solution for themselves, that they can build and develop as they see fit. We've seen this pattern repeat over and over - Western goods undercut local markets, destroying local development.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:56 PM on March 10 [5 favorites]


The US doesn't have a space program anymore though, do they?

I really wish this particular idiocy would die. I mean, do people not remember things like the incredibly complex landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars the year after the Shuttle was retired? The rover that's still there among many ongoing NASA missions?
posted by Sangermaine at 12:57 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]


Spacecom the operator of the AMOS satellite fleet, has announced that AMOS-5 at 17°E is now providing a hybrid satellite-cellular communications solution in Africa. The hybrid solution delivered on AMOS Ku-band capacity enhances the quality of affordable high speed Internet connectivity to a telecom provider in Africa.

Spacecom’s hybrid solution enables the user to take advantage of satellite for downloading data while relying on cellular or any other terrestrial data network for internet upload requests and data offload. Data downloads typically account for between 80– 90 per cent of Internet traffic.

The solution brings the best of both technologies by connecting the cellular network and satellite to a central hub hybrid platform on one side and a hybrid terminal at the customer’s location. The customer’s cellular modem, together with a small, receive-only, DTH-type antenna for satellite reception, allows traffic from the Internet to be delivered over satellite to the customer while traffic from the user to the Internet is delivered over the cellular network. The setup has optional WiFi connectivity for PCs, tablets, and other handheld devices.
[snip]
AMOS-5 was designed and built specifically for the African market with a pan-African C-band beam and three Ku-band beams that cover the continent and provide connectivity to Europe and the Middle East. The satellite’s 17°E position enables its signal to reach every region in Sub-Saharan Africa.

posted by infini at 12:58 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


The worst, most borderline-racist part of the article is the assumption that a single Ghanaian urban office setting is representative of an entire continent.

That strikes me kind of like an odd reading of the article. He writes about his experience to illustrate that Africa is not a singular entity (that's why he specifically mentions Ghana and Nigeria). Also, he seems aware that not all of Africa is not the same as Ghana:

"Surely, there are some people living in remote villages in certain parts of particular African countries who don’t have Internet access. But do they even have a cellphone? Is their problem really connectivity?"


And then:

"either for Facebook and Google to provide the connectivity on their own, or to startle carriers on the ground into extending service deeper into rural areas"

I don't think he's offering his personal experience as the True experience of Africa. He's just incredulous that Silicon Valley would know what is going on and how to fix something for an entire continent 10,000 miles away.
posted by FJT at 12:59 PM on March 10 [8 favorites]


If balloons are libertarian, I want to be a libertarian.
posted by michaelh at 1:01 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]


He's just incredulous that Silicon Valley would know what is going on and how to fix something for an entire continent 10,000 miles away.

Seriously? Why? Does he think that Silicon Valley is incapable of having offices in Africa? Employing locals who will have hands on experience with the problems there? Giving those locals the tools to try to fix those problems?
posted by Inkoate at 1:02 PM on March 10


re: Satellites: sortof works for bandwidth but results in really high latency from what I remember.

re: Why things in the air like Drones and Blimps:

Some African countries did pretty well in mobile by skipping the whole 'lay landlines everywhere' thing and going straight to mobile towers. Trouble is that doesn't provide enough bandwidth for decent internet. People are trying to find any solution other than 'lay cables everywhere' because in a huge rugged continent like Africa that is never going to work well economically. Thats why the innovative ideas don't touch the ground. Not because the companies 'want to avoid the messy realities on the ground'.
posted by memebake at 1:18 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]


> Seriously? Why? Does he think that Silicon Valley is incapable of having offices in Africa? Employing locals who will have hands on experience with the problems there? Giving those locals the tools to try to fix those problems?

I'm not sure how drones flying overhead, the solution proposed by Silicon Valley (in the author's opinion), would address any of those points. That's exactly the issue.
posted by xbonesgt at 1:19 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


Satellite would only kind of work for high-end academic/business/government use (and even then be pretty bogged down and enormously expensive) but absolutely couldn't connect average end users to the internet as it exists now (bandwidth on satellite is very expensive) so, at best, you'd be looking at a full parallel internet on any large scale.

Really, connectivity is a problem you see globally, because all the good infrastructure can only be built to high density (so major cities get decent-to-good connectivity, while rural areas get poor-to-nonexistent). There really aren't any good across-the-board solutions.
posted by byanyothername at 1:23 PM on March 10


Thats why the innovative ideas don't touch the ground. Not because the companies 'want to avoid the messy realities on the ground'.

I think you're being a tad too little here. The term "realities on the ground" isn't about literally burrowing into the earth, but about dealing with the political, economic, social, and cultural environments of the places for which these solutions are proposed. These sorts of grand plans of salvation by Westerners often ignore such realities and instead seek to implement some half-formed, well-meaning ideas or policies that sound nice.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:23 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


Alternately, the drone market is looking for commercial applications now that their existing markets are saturated.

Packages, something something in Australia, internet, they're turning into pinatas...
posted by infini at 1:27 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


These sorts of grand plans of salvation by Westerners often ignore such realities and instead seek to implement some half-formed, well-meaning ideas or policies that sound nice.

Yes I know, but in this case Mr Marlow is misdiagnosing the motives of the techies. Their solutions are not 'off the ground' because they want to avoid the political/economic/social environments. Their solutions are 'off the ground' because if you're trying to be truly innovative, thats the most innovative place to put connectivity.
posted by memebake at 2:06 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


This author seems more concerned about airing stereotypes about particular groups than sharing insight. (Is it not bad enough to deal with libertarians, do we also have to deal with lazy detractors of libertarians?)

This entire rant seems to be about Facebook's acquisition of New Mexico-based (not "Silicon Valley") Titan Aerospace. Now, 'drone' is a fairly overloaded term, but this particular New Mexico company works on solarpowered craft that stay at an elevation of 65,000 feet for five years at a time. This is more like satellites on the cheap than what I thought drones would be.

Second, who exactly is overblowing the promise of such a scheme? Anything like this is quite farfetched, but that's the point, you have to try far fetched things in order for any of them to work out. Looking through the press coverage of this, I don't see Facebook touting that they're going to save Africa, I see lots of press speculation that this acquisition might be related to Facebook's stated goal of improving Internet access to the two-thirds of the world that has poor internet access right now.

So really, who's to blame for all the bluster and misrepresentation of reality? Is it Facebook? Where? Is it the media? Where? Is it that uber-libertarian haven of Silicon Valley (hamburger. really. there are a few prominent people advocating libertarianism but you don't find it as often as you find it in finance, for example.). While he's at it, does he want to blame Silicon Valley for their myopia regarding mental illness, as they blithely walk by the regular panhandlers on University Avenue, just like all the professors and students from Stanford do? Want to blame Silicon Valley for their optimism and hope for the future? How dare those idiots ever dream of affecting anything outside their small world view? Does this journalist think that Bill Gates' attitudes are in stark contrast to the rest of the nerds of Silicon Valley? Does he really think that libertarianism infects Silicon Valley more than any other sphere of business? Does he really think that as a whole Silicon Valley is less humane or caring than lawyers, bankers, the media, Hollywood, or any other powerful institution in the US?

I kind of regret looking into the silly drone story at all, but it's less silly than this article. It's tilting at windmills, when there are real libertarian dragons all around us.
posted by Llama-Lime at 2:40 PM on March 10 [6 favorites]


I live in Canada, within 40km of two large cities (and 20km of the US border, with two other major cities within 200km across the border). I would *love* if there were Internet drones flying overhead, because it was a hell of a job to get Internet access here.

Cable and DSL don't make it here, cell phone service is incredibly spotty (you can get one bar if you stand in just the right place and don't move the phone), and our phone lines are so old that you can only get about 9600bps through them (and it's long distance to the nearest ISP that still has modems). The neighbourhood eventually got together to put a repeater on a hill which can hit a repeater on a mountain which can then get a line of sight to a good connection. This cost tens of thousands of dollars to set up once it was all put together.

I have trouble believing that if we have this much trouble getting Internet access in rural part of a highly developed region of Canada that Internet access is everywhere in Africa.
posted by Emanuel at 2:41 PM on March 10 [6 favorites]


There's an electrical engineer in my town who is originally from Zambia. Not all rural areas of Africa have Internet, so he has created a cool, low-cost mesh network, and with some friends and allies works on installing it around his home country in his free time.

But he understands what the locals needs and capabilities are.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:00 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]


Is he working on the Mesh Potato?
posted by infini at 3:17 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


Llama-Lime: "Now, 'drone' is a fairly overloaded term, but this particular New Mexico company works on solarpowered craft that stay at an elevation of 65,000 feet for five years at a time. This is more like satellites on the cheap than what I thought drones would be."

The idea of floating high-altitude communications balloons that can stay up for a long time and do their own station-keeping isn't necessarily a bad one. It's not a new one either; the term for such devices is "aerostats" and it traces its history back at least to the tethered balloons that were used for battlefield scouting in World War One. In theory they are cheaper than satellites, easier to repair and replace, have much lower communications latency, and require less-powerful transmitters and receivers.

In modern conception they really are drones, that is to say Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. They're a type of lighter-than-air aircraft that uses its sensors and thrusters to autonomously maintain a static position and altitude (or to slowly move about from place to place as needed). A pretty neat idea, really, which people have been talking about (and doing, on an occasional and short-term basis) since at least the 1980s as far as I know.

They've never really caught on so far, though they've been tried here and there in isolated cases (the military uses them occasionally, for instance). I'm not totally sure why they've not caught on, except that they fill a niche which is already mostly filled by satellite and ground-based radio. Also it's probably pretty difficult to make one that will be able to hold a position up in the stratosphere for years on end – it would have to be very reliable, generate its own power, and be able to contend with changing wind and weather conditions. It's the sort of thing that modern computing and materials science technology, combined with our increasing expertise in building and operating other types of UAVs, might actually be making really practical only just now. Exciting!

I could, actually, see these being potentially used as a way to roll out communications infrastructure to places that lack the pre-existing infrastructure (roads, electricity, telephone and cable television lines, etc.) to make traditional cable-based communications infrastructure feasible. That's assuming, of course, that these things become cheap enough and good enough for them to become an attractive alternative.

However, I'm not exactly sure how this is a particularly libertarian idea. Aerostats are in principle something between a radio tower and a satellite, neither of which have thus far transcended normal structures of regulation and taxation. I mean, if you wanted to roll out an aerostat-based ISP in a country you'd presumably first need to get permission from whatever the local equivalents of the FAA and FCC are, and then you'd need to go through whatever the normal process is for setting up business operations in that country. There's also no reason why a local entity, either privately or publicly owned, couldn't set up a system like this (assuming that they can afford it, which is an issue with all types of infrastructure development).

If Titan Aerospace starts rolling aerostats off of their assembly line by the dozen at a unit price equivalent to, say, a nice car, then what's to stop a country like Gabon from snapping some up? They'd need to have the expertise to manage them and perhaps Titan Aerospace would contract to provide that, but again that's no different than any other communications network and there's also no reason why part of that contract couldn't involve training local labor to take over the system after a specified time frame.

It's far from a guaranteed thing, but if it works it works. If it turns out not to work then something else will come along. The developing world is (on the whole) very, very interested in improving its access to the internet because the people and governments there want to be players in the global economy rather than pawns, and they rightly see that internet access is a necessary prerequisite for doing business on that level. Local corruption and international exploitation are slowing it down (some places more than others) but it's happening and will continue to happen. One way or another it's going to get done, and if this enables it to happen faster then I think a lot of places would jump on it.
posted by Scientist at 4:05 PM on March 10 [7 favorites]


I remember hearing something about droids being powered by a laser on the ground or some sort of such thing.
posted by I-baLL at 5:07 PM on March 10


He's just incredulous that Silicon Valley would know what is going on and how to fix something for an entire continent 10,000 miles away.

Apparently not realizing that some of these companies (Google at least) have African offices and employees?
posted by wildcrdj at 6:24 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


Disclaimer: I was involved in wireless deployments in South America when I was much younger, and was party to strategic discussions of "wired v wireless" in that context.

Some African countries did pretty well in mobile by skipping the whole 'lay landlines everywhere' thing and going straight to mobile towers. Trouble is that doesn't provide enough bandwidth for decent internet.

Oh, bullshit. This is wrong on so many levels. The idea that "decent Internet" means "multi-megabit, low latency, got to have my HDTV and twitchy FPS response" is such an example of First World Problems, I have no words. There's something like 2 billion people on this planet for whom G3 speeds would change the world, and G2 would be a massive improvement.

Not because the companies 'want to avoid the messy realities on the ground'.

Also bullshit. It is, in fact, *all* about the messy realities on the ground. Insurgent group pulls up/down your copper or fiber for miles? Local warlord/druglord/petty bureaucrat wants you to pay "protection" for every house you wire? Not to mention the whole "so you want to win the contract in the first place" bribes. Please. Wireless works because the infrastructure is consolidated and defensible, and incremental addition of customers is easy and affordable.
posted by kjs3 at 7:25 PM on March 10 [5 favorites]


Yo, send someone out to various bits of Africa with shitty networking.

Ask around if they're interested in drone base stations. I figure the actual Africans could let you know.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 8:32 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


The US doesn't have a space program anymore though, do they?

Here's NASA's launch manifest for 2014.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:48 AM on March 11


Scientist, you may find this map of African Internet Exchange points interesting - Gabon has none. source
posted by infini at 4:10 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]


That is interesting, infini. Though I hear Cameroon is much better off in terms of connectivity (not sure how much better, I guess I'll find out this summer, but at least our colleagues there seem to have a much easier time getting online than our colleagues in Gabon) and it has no exchange points either.

Gabon is just really undeveloped, relatively speaking, in general. It's a wealthy country on paper, with lots of natural resources, a per-capita GDP of $14,400 vs. $2,300 for neighboring Cameroon, and little abject poverty (in my experience and according to those Gabonese who I have asked about it) but it just has very, very little infrastructure. Nobody I've spoken to seems to be entirely sure why this is, though one theory I've heard a lot of is that because Gabon is so rich in natural resources compared to Cameroon (people compare Gabon and Cameroon a lot) it hasn't had to develop as much in order for people to do reasonably well. Where Cameroon is mostly farmland these days and gets most of its income from commercial agriculture, Gabon is still mostly forest and gets most of its income from logging, mining, and oil.

A lot of it is surely political, as well. Both are former French colonies and both are stable, peaceful, nominal democracies where in theory the government is elected but in practice elections always heavily favor the ruling party and the president enjoys strong autocratic powers, but that very autocracy means that things tend to happen or not according to the personal desires of the president. Cameroon has had the same president since 1982, and Gabon has had either Omar Bongo Odimba or his son Ali Bongo Odimba since 1967. That means that in each case one guy has pretty much set the tone for how things are done in each country, and I think that explains a lot of the differences in how the two have developed in the post-colonial era.
posted by Scientist at 5:43 AM on March 11


This is an interesting article, but there's actually nothing libertarian about "not wanting to get towers blown up." It looks like the libertarian piece was just jabbed on for clickbait.
posted by corb at 7:33 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]


I would only add that a typical national cellular network is between 3,000 and 13,000 Node Bs, and that’s a lot of flying robots, especially when you think that they will need to rotate home for downtime. It’s also a hell of a lot of aerial activity for countries that don’t have much in the way of air traffic control. And typical monthly blended ARPU in these areas is around $5. If you want to attach a flying robot to each cell, how’s that going to add up?
From somebody who actually works on the sharp end of mobile technology and has some clue about what setting up a new network would entail.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:11 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Corb, I'd say the technolibertarianism/utopianism is the dependence on a piece of not yet developed technology to do an end run around all the problems the actually existing solutions have.

It's similar to that stupid personal suuuperfast rail idea from a few months back, where you can image all sorts of kewl things that work perfectly out of the box to compare against the nitty gritty of things that have to function in the real world with all the problems that entails. At best it's a distraction from solving these problems, at worst it's a scam.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:14 AM on March 12


The US doesn't have a space program anymore though, do they?

Here's NASA's launch manifest for 2014.


I'd just like to point out that of the 14 launches listed 7 are Soyuz launches in Baikonur and 4 of the remaining 7 are SpaceX shots.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:29 AM on March 18


I mean, if you wanted to roll out an aerostat-based ISP in a country you'd presumably first need to get permission from whatever the local equivalents of the FAA and FCC are, and then you'd need to go through whatever the normal process is for setting up business operations in that country.

I assumed that the "libertarian" part of this was that you'd set up operations in Friendly African Country A, which would allow you to put up aerostats at/near the border with African Country B That Would Totally Impose Evil Socialist Taxes Upon You And Make Baby Jesus Cry, which would then allow you to penetrate something like 300 miles into Country B's territory.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:21 AM on March 18


I'd just like to point out that of the 14 launches listed 7 are Soyuz launches in Baikonur and 4 of the remaining 7 are SpaceX shots.

But at the same time those are just the NASA launches. Here's the list of planned launches from Canaveral this year. I couldn't quickly find lists of what's being launced from Vandenberg or Wallops.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:29 AM on March 18


I really appreciate how this thread turned into a mass of techie information on mobile tech et al.
posted by dabitch at 10:55 AM on March 19


I confess *opens cupboard door*
Imma menopausal geek
*closes windows*
posted by infini at 11:55 AM on March 19


and back to our regular programming

Challenge For Africa: Flying Donkeys Drop Mail By Drone
Swiss researchers are challenging African youth techrepreneurs to develop commercial drones that can deliver packages from African skies by 2020.

While the article seems to read backwards, its interesting to note that this has not shown up in my African twitterati's timelines, which tends to be KE/tech/startup heavy. Nope, no sirree... not even a jokey tweet.
posted by infini at 11:59 AM on March 19


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