As part of Project SkyBender, Google is using drones to experiment with millimeter-wave radio transmissions, a technology integral to the development of 5G internet. The company envisions delivering internet across the world via thousands of high-altitude, self-flying aircraft, The Guardian reports.
Millimeter wave taps into new (and therefore uncrowded) spectrum, capable of transmitting gigabits of data every second—40 times more than current 4G LTE systems. Because millimeter waves have a shorter range than current mobile phone signals, Google is working on ways to focus the transmissions over greater distances (i.e., from the drone) via phased array.
The tech giant constructed several prototype transceivers last summer and is operating out of a 15,000 square-foot hangar at Virgin Galactic’s Gateway to Space terminal in New Mexico’s remote Spaceport America. Google also installed its own flight control center in the neighboring Spaceflight Operations Center.
To test the SkyBender system, Google is utilizing the Centaur, an optionally piloted aircraft (OPA) that boasts manned, unmanned, and augmented modes of operation, as well as solar-powered drones made by Google Titan, which the company formed after acquiring drone-maker Titan Aerospace in 2014.
SkyBender is part of the Google Access team, which includes Project Loon—a plan to deliver LTE connectivity to remote areas via helium balloons.
Though a pioneer in its own right, Google is not the first organization to experiment with drones and millimeter wave technology. In 2014, DARA announced its Mobile Hotspots program that would utilize drones to provide troops with mobile operation in remote geographic areas.