At Parsan Cross our approach to finding innovative development solutions adheres to two very simple principles: First, any innovative development solution must address a huge problem in the developing world, as evidenced by a correlation to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Second, this innovative development solution must employ relatively feasible technology appropriately scaled and nuanced for our (Latin America and the Caribbean) region. Periodically, we will showcase an innovative development solution in this thought leadership blog. This week we take a look at Project Loon.
1) Who is the Innovative Solution Finder?
X (formerly Google X), the American semi-secret research and development facility founded by Google and operating as a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc.
2) What’s the Huge Problem? Providing internet access to rural and remote areas of the developing world (in other words more than half of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean).
More than 4 billion people or 55% of the world’s population, mostly in the developing world, still don’t have access to the internet. Only 43.4% of all households in Latin America and the Caribbean were connected to the Internet in 2015. Simply segmented the problem of providing internet access to rural and remote areas of the developing world falls into four buckets: Infrastructure (countries are poor with large rural or remote populations); Affordability (high cost of devises and 3G connectivity access); Skills awards and cultural acceptance (illiteracy); Local adoption and use (creating relevant local content translated into local language). Improving internet access in developing countries to levels in developed countries would generate more than $2 trillion in additional GDP. Moreover, Latin America needs about $400 billion in investment through 2020, or the equivalent of $700 per inhabitant, to close the digital divide. Only 54.4% of the inhabitants of Latin America and the Caribbean used the Internet in 2015.
3) What’s the SDG Correlation?
SDG Goal 9- which is to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation. Specifically, Target 9c which is to significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020, with the 9.C.1. indicator measuring the proportion of population covered by a mobile network, by technology.
4) What’s the Relatively Feasible Technology?
Project Loon or massive floating balloons above Earth’s surface. High altitude balloons the size of a tennis court when flattened, made of polyethylene. The winds are maneuvered by adjusting their altitude in the stratosphere to float to an identified wind layer. At the bottom of the ballon hangs a small lightweight computer with the same technology you would find at the top of a cell tower, with transceivers to beam internet signals and get information from ground stations. The computers are powered by solar panels. The ballon is designed to float 11 miles above the Earth for months in one stretch. Users of the service connect
to the balloon network using a special internet antenna attached to a structure.
5) Is it piloted and or scaled in Latin America or the Caribbean?
Not that we know of, but we are talking about a semi-secret research and development facility. What we do know is that recently after hurricane Irma Project Loon was able to restore internet access to over 100,000 users in Puerto Rico.
6) Parsan Cross message:
Dear Project Loon,
Please note that all of us here at Parsan Cross will gladly help to allow Latin American and Caribbean countries to serve as your incubator while you develop your business model. Starting with working with local government officials to ensure that the local enabling environment, from a political, legislative, regulatory and legal perspective, is appropriate to ensure that Project Loon technology is able to radically transform the lives of so many.
Parsan Cross is a global strategic advisory firm focusing on Latin American and the Caribbean as a region and emerging countries around the world.