Loon Receives SoftBank Investment

hapsLoon, the internet balloon company, has received a $125 million investment from HAPSMobile, an affiliate of SoftBank. HAPSMobile is developing stratospheric drones to be used as internet platforms. The drones, with a wingspan of 78 meters, plan to fly at altitude of 20 kilometers for six months at a time.

HAPSMobile and Loon seek to use compatible (or identical) communications equipment on their respective platforms. They also plan to coordinate on ground system equipment, as well as joint policy efforts with governments to allow balloon and drone communications platforms.

The two companies may also coordinate with OneWeb, the low earth orbit satellite company. In theory satellites could communicate with balloons or drones, which in turn can communications directly with consumers, obviating the need for specialized consumer antennas. OneWeb is in part funded by SoftBank.

The Great Connecting: Introduction

great connectingHere is the Introduction from The Great Connecting. The full book (hardcover, paperback, e-book) is available for purchase on Amazon or any local bookseller.


In February 2018, a rocket launched by SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk, placed a Spanish radar satellite called Paz into orbit. While the launch itself was uneventful, there were two significant stow- aways on board: a pair of small prototype satellites, Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b, to test new communications technologies. SpaceX plans to use information from these tests to build a network of communications satellites called Starlink to provide broadband services across the planet.

There are currently about eight hundred functioning communications satellites in orbit, providing services across the globe. SpaceX has Federal Communications Commission (FCC) permission to launch 11,943 Starlink satellites in the next few years. The constellation is scheduled to be completed by 2025.

Starlink is just one of several large projects involving a new generation of communications satellites that will provide broadband services across the planet over the next few years. Other nonsatellite technologies, such as high-altitude balloons and solar-powered drones, are being developed by Google, Facebook, Airbus, and other major players to extend broadband to parts of the planet currently unreached by the internet.

In the twenty-five years since the World Wide Web appeared with the launch of the Mosaic browser, about half the population of the planet has gained access to the internet. In the next three to five years, the other half will be gaining access. That second half of the planet’s population, notably, is the “poor half,” with most of the three billion or so future internet consumers currently living on less than several dollars per day.

The impact of rapid internet extension in developing countries will be profound, since broadband will enable many previously unavailable services, such as information access, distance education, online banking, health services, and government programs. It will also, of course, bring many challenges, including fraud, misinformation, and hate speech.

The extension of the internet across the full planet, which I call The Great Connecting, is a momentous event in world history. Have there been any other global events that significantly affected billions of people over just a few years? Even considering wars, epidemics, famines, technologies, and religion, it is hard to think of any. The Great Connecting is doing just that, however, at this very moment.

Despite the fact that the connecting of the planet is so significant, it is, ironically, very hard to witness. It is happening in millions of simultaneous small steps, all essentially hiding in plain sight. It is happening in a kiosk in Harare, where a student is buying her first smartphone. It is happening in Redmond, where an engineer is designing new broad- band satellite antennas. It is happening in Cuzco, where a nonprofit is teaching farmers to use a new app. It is happening in New York, where global policy organizations are setting telecommunications standards. It is happening in Kigali, where international firms are laying fiber optic cable. All are contributing their little bit in this process of connecting the planet—and the combined effect is profound.

It is also happening fast. While traditional internet technologies involving cell towers and smartphones continue to expand in developing countries, the new technologies involving satellites, balloons, and drones represent a major and speedy leap forward.

I decided to write a book about The Great Connecting. It is an epic story that I wanted to investigate and better understand. So I took leave from my technology company in California to spend part of a year traveling to regions with no broadband, including some of the poorest, most remote areas that are likely last in line for connecting. I also sought to explore regions just getting broadband and to speak with those most affected. I met with engineers and scientists driving the innovation of communications at some of the largest and most sophisticated technology firms on the planet. I spoke with policymakers who are thinking about the rules and implications of expanding connectivity. I sought out the most knowledgeable and passionate folks I could find who are leading the expansion of broadband.

Two questions animated my explorations. First, what are the implications, both positive and negative, of The Great Connecting in develop- ing countries and for the planet overall? Second, and most important, what are the major players involved in connecting the planet doing to prepare, to best accentuate the positive and mitigate the negative effects of expanded connectivity? I entered the project with a hunch that many groups are sprinting toward wiring the planet, but few are thinking hard about the opportunities and challenges once that hap- pens not many years from now. The dog is chasing the car—but what happens when it catches it?

In this book, I navigate through the current state of broadband across the planet, including who has it, who doesn’t, and present trends. I explore the technologies that in the near future will have a tremendous impact on reaching billions of new people. I review many of the remarkable possibilities that global broadband will offer. I dive into a number of challenges of expansion—including some heart- rending stories that illustrate very real perils. I also propose a number of steps that governments, organizations, and individuals should be taking to best prepare for The Great Connecting. The pages contain narrative, travelogues, background primers, and policy recommendations, all in a mosaic that reflects the complexity of the global story under way.

Through my explorations, I came to view The Great Connecting as a complex relationship taking place: the population of half the planet is about to become closely connected to the other half for the first time. It is the story of a global union. Like any complex relationship, many aspects are at play: exploring what’s possible, investing in growth, over- coming challenges, and discovering the best path to partnership. Those are the stages I describe in the book. I’ve even organized chapters along the path of this emerging relationship.

And like any complex relationship, there are aspects that are wonderful, and there are aspects that are terrible. The relationship requires investment and effort and an optimistic sense of the future. It also requires a clear-eyed idea of what troubles might lie ahead.

As it so happens, the story of this relationship begins in a land very far away.

The Great Connecting: How to Get Involved

great connectingIn The Great Connecting is an appendix titled “How to Get Involved” which is reproduced here. In the comments section of this post feel free to add suggestions on this topic.


We all can be observers of The Great Connecting. It is more rewarding, however, to participate, even a little bit. How can one contribute to this epic process of global connection?

Here are seven ideas that come to mind. If you have additional ideas, you can post a comment on the blog post with the title “How to Get Involved” at the Broadband Everywhere blog (http://www.broadbandeverywhere.org).

• Explore. Social media brings the world to our smartphones. It is possible to meet people, join conversations, and share photos, music, or ideas with individuals around the world in nearly every country. I was once, for example, looking into a project with my daughter involving Iran. It is astounding how many Iranians use Instagram.

• Travel. Taking a trip to a developing country greatly supports The Great Connecting. You will use online services to research, plan, schedule, and pay for your trip. You will use your phone to coordinate plans once you are in the country. You will spend money, rewarding those who are building the information infrastructure.

• Hire. The Great Connecting makes it possible to hire people directly in remote places. If you or your company needs to hire a designer, developer, data entry specialist, or other worker, you can use online services such as UpWork to find people. Language tutors are especially helpful. My family has had great luck hiring instructors in Mandarin, Spanish, and Portuguese for online lessons.”

• Volunteer. Many services allow you to volunteer online. You can tutor English, help with sister schools or sister cities programs, or be an international mentor.

• Study. Online education programs such as EdX and Udacity offer classes that are international. Any breakout groups you join are certain to have participants from all over the world.

• Donate. A number of large, credible organizations allow donations or loans to people in developing countries. GiveDirectly provides unconditional cash transfers to poor people in a number of countries in Africa. GlobalGiving supports grassroots charitable projects worldwide. Kiva provides microloans in eighty countries.

• Participate. New information about The Great Connecting is posted on the Broadband Everywhere blog (http://www.broadbandeverywhere.org). You can post and respond to comments there. Information will also be posted there about the best new information resources on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. We can use the hashtag #BroadbandEverywhere.

Also feel free to write me with ideas and comments: cashel@ForumOne.com.


Phones as Medical Devices

africaThe proliferation of cheap, connected smartphones in developing countries has the potential of transforming healthcare.

New users have access to information, such as through services such as MomConnect.  Phones can support telemedicine. Smartphones can even be used as medical devices themselves.

One recent example is the use of smartphones to support inexpensive ultrasound devices in Uganda. Doctors there, armed with a phone linked to a $2,000 handheld scanner, can diagnose pneumonia, infections, cancers, and other conditions. The devices are built to be durable for use in remote regions. Images can be sent to radiologists in other cities (or countries) for review. Many users are now seeing their first medical device ever — and it is the extension of a phone.

Amazon to Launch Internet Satellite Network

amazonAmazon has announced plans for a new internet satellite network. “Project Kuiper” will comprise 3,236 low earth orbit satellites providing broadband access across the planet.

Amazon’s entry into the internet satellite race is notable because of the company’s technical acumen, access to capital, and ties to Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

The project will be in direct competition with industry leaders SpaceX and OneWeb.

The Great Connecting To Publish June 11

great connectingJune 11 will usher the publication of Jim Cashel’s new book The Great Connecting: The Emergence of Global Broadband, and How That Changes Everything.

The book is available for pre-order at any independent bookstore or on Amazon.

From the cover:

What happens when affordable broadband finally reaches the half of the planet that has little or no Internet access? Google, Facebook, SpaceX, and many others have major initiatives underway to connect the rest of the planet over the next few years. For the first time, even the poorest and most remote of global citizens will have access to information, communications, identity authentication, government programs, global philanthropy, online banking, telehealth, distance education, and other powerful services heretofore impossible. In The Great Connecting, Jim Cashel speaks with the major players driving the broadband revolution and travels to the most remote corners of the globe to consider the changes in our world about to take place ― certainly one of the biggest events in human history. As Cashel explains, the expansion of broadband offers many challenges but will also bring a remarkable opportunity for the planet.

Advance commentary on The Great Connecting:

Jim Cashel has identified our position on the precipice of potentially one of the great turning points of history. Almost half the world’s population has never known the ability to connect with the other half and with each other. The result will change lives, economies, and existing social structures. Cashel describes how connections have consequences, and he explores both the promise and peril that accompany connecting three billion people living in societies built around the absence of such connections. The Great Connecting is a must read for those who want to get ahead of this transformation curve.

—Tom Wheeler, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and author of From Gutenberg to Google: The History of Our Future

Communications technologies are reshaping the planet—but we haven’t seen anything yet. Three billion new internet users changes everything . . . and this wonderful book captures that change in a very human way.

—Jeanne Bourgault, President and CEO, Internews

Jim Cashel explores a truly consequential moment in history through a compelling interweaving of narrative, travel notes, and policy recommendations. As both a technologist and a physician, Cashel leads us from the tech campuses of Silicon Valley to the refugee camps of Southeast Asia. I highly recommend you join him on this readable exploration of The Great Connecting.

—Nicco Mele, Director, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School


From the Kirkus Review of The Great Connecting:

[Cashel’s] study is impressively exacting. At the same time, it’s an exceedingly practical work, and draws heavily not only on theory and data, but also on the author’s travels to the developing world.

From Goodreads reviews:

This is a thoughtful, vital book penned by an expert. And it’s an entertaining read, to boot.


The full Introduction to the book is posted here.

The “How to Get Involved” appendix of the book is published here.

Interview with the author here.

The book is available for pre-order at any independent bookstore or on Amazon.