Google basically?is?the Internet?estimates?put the company at 25 percent of North America’s Internet traffic. When you own that much, your biggest area of growth is people?not?on the Internet, which is still the majority of people in the world. Only a third of the world is online, and the bigger that number gets, the more people become Google customers.
The US, Canada, Europe, and Australia lead the world in Internet usage, and at the bottom is most of the developing world. In the map above, the places with the biggest growth potential are the entire continent of Africa, India, and?at 40 percent penetration but with a massive population?China.
Build out the data infrastructure
The first step in getting Internet access to the rest of the world is to build out the?necessary?data infrastructure?in places where there is none. You’ve probably heard of?Google Fiber, Google’s gigabit fiber optic service available in Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri. In those cities, Google is a full-on ISP, putting fiber on telephone poles, running fiber to every house, supplying hardware, and billing customers directly to use the Internet.?The goal of Google Fiber isn’t to eventually wire every home in the US?Google hopes to use the power of competition to put pressure on existing ISPs to raise their network speeds.
Google is applying a similar strategy,?called “Project Link,” in developing countries.?Like Google Fiber, Google rolls into a town, lays down some glass, and significantly boosts the local Internet speed. Unlike Google Fiber, though, Google isn’t running fiber-to-the-home, achieving gigabit speeds, or acting as the end-to-end ISP. Project Link is just about bringing broadband to an area by installing a fiber optic backbone for a city, which other ISPs and mobile operators can then link up to.?The first town to be wired up is?Kampala, Uganda?a city in Africa with a population of 1.6 million.?The biggest problem in Kampala and other cities is the sorry state of the local infrastructure, and Google hopes that after installing the trunk lines, the locals can take care of the last mile.
Project Link and Google Fiber are both attempts at the traditional, wired Internet connectivity model, but Google is also trying a crazy, less traditional method of Internet delivery that doesn’t involve?running a wire to every building on Earth. Fiber and even copper backbone is very expensive, and it’s especially hard to justify in rural areas. This initiative is called?Project Loon, a balloon-based mesh network that the company is experimenting with in New Zealand.
High-altitude balloons measuring 50 feet across are equipped with solar-powered data transceivers and deployed into the stratosphere. A base station sends a signal up to the balloons, and the balloons relay the requested bits down to the people below.?The balloons are spaced about 30 miles apart, and a relay station is needed after two hops. It’s a middle ground between slow and expensive satellite Internet and ground-based cellular service.
While Project Loon’s communications hardware is powered by the sun, it navigates by the wind. The balloons are primarily controlled through their altitude, which determines which layer of the earth’s wind is carrying them around the globe. The balloons communicate to stationary antennas affixed to users’ homes and provide “3G like” data speeds.
In the US and other developed countries, the Internet comes over fiber, cable, and telephone lines, along with satellite and cellular data. In the developing world, there will be no “silver bullet” Internet access, either?it will be a mix of technologies. Airborne platforms have the potential to be very cheap compared to building towers or laying cable, provided Google can make it work.
Drive down the cost of smartphones
Once you get decent Internet service in the developing world, you’re going to need a device that can actually go on the Internet. The cheapest Internet-enabled devices we can produce are smartphones. So with Google owning the largest, de facto smartphone OS, the company is in a good position to help the developing world get online.
At Google I/O 2013, immediately after announcing that Android hit 900 million users, Sundar Pichai, the head of Google’s Chrome and Android divisions, said, “We have to remember, there are over seven billion people on this planet, so we have a long way to go, and we think the journey is just getting started.” The crowd laughed, but Pichai was serious.?If you really want to get all seven billion people on Earth using an Android smartphone, Android will need to work on some very low-end hardware.
A more recent big Google initiative is the company’s dive into home automation. The biggest headline grabber was the acquisition of Nest, makers of a smart thermostat and smart smoke detector. Nest is one of the few companies in the “Internet of things” and “smart home” space actually delivering purchasable products, and that basically makes it an industry leader.
Google has been interested in home automation for a while now, starting with its 2011 announcement of Android@Home. The initiative was first demoed at Google I/O, with Google saying the company wanted to “make your whole house an Android accessory.” The company talked about the potential of a smart home and showed off smart LED light?bulbs?that were controlled by an Android app. Sadly, nothing ever became of Android@Home. It quietly missed its scheduled end-of-2011 ship date, and Google hasn’t publicly spoken about it since. Privately, there have been some developments: a year ago the Android search app contained code for an?Android@Home Google Now card?that could control a light bulb, and the Android 4.2.2 source code contained reference to an?“Android@Home mesh network device.”?Google was also caught making its own smart thermostat app, and?Android Police?scored screenshots for the new app, called “Google Energysense.” Other than the interesting Googley design aesthetic, it looked like a fairly basic thermostat control app.
Judging by Nest CEO Tony Fadell’s comments on his position within Google, it sounds like he’s running?a new home automation division?within Google.?Whatever is left of both of these products would probably greatly benefit from Nest’s stewardship. It’s easy to get stuck dreaming up pie-in-the-sky smart home opportunities where everything talks to everything else, but it’s significantly harder to ship a single, working product that is useful to consumers. Nest has shown that it knows how to get a product out the door.
Healthcare is one of the next big fields being revolutionized by technology, and naturally Google wants to be a part of that movement. Its most recent news in the medical field was the announcement of a?“smart” contact lens?for diabetics. The contact lens can monitor the wearer’s glucose level via their tears, saving the need to stab a finger and bleed into a glucose measuring machine.?Google is also exploring integrating a tiny LED into the contact lens that could light up when glucose levels need tending to. One of the co-founders of the project,?Babak Parviz, previously worked with?Microsoft Research?on a similar idea. He has even embedded?copper circuits and LEDs?in contact lenses in the past. Currently, Google is developing the project in-house and discussing approval options with the FDA.
One of Google’s biggest moonshots was announced in September of last year. Google shocked the Internet by announcing “Calico,” a company dedicated to?”health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases.” Basically, Google wants to solve the problem of aging.?Since the?announcement, Calico has been?recruiting?high-profile anti-aging researchers.
There is real science behind life extension?one of Calico’s new employees,?Cynthia Kenyon, gave?a TED talk?describing how her team was able to double the lifespan of a worm. Life extension will be one of the next big fields in science?it would be incredibly lucrative, as everyone is aging and no one wants to die. Further, a?lot of rich Silicon Valley executives are starting to get older and therefore have a very personal interest in making headway in this area. Oracle CEO?Larry Ellison is a perfect example: he has his own anti-aging company called “The Ellison Medical Foundation.”
Calico doesn’t seem too interested in making a name for itself, so we don’t expect much in the way of news. The company doesn’t even have a website.