SkyBender: Now Google tests out drone-delivered 5G internet

Google's top-secret Project SkyBender is testing the viability of millimeter wave technology, beamed from solar-powered Titan drones.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Google's own solar-power drones, made by Google Titan, have wingspans of up to 50m (164ft).

Image: Google

Google has been testing solar-powered drones in New Mexico to deliver internet services under a project codenamed SkyBender.

The technology giant is paying about $1,000 a day to test its technology from 15,000 square feet of hangar space at Spaceport America, which were originally designated to Virgin Galactic's delayed spaceflight program, according to a report in the Guardian.

The project is using drones to test millimeter-wave radio, one of the technologies being explored for 5G wireless, which can blitz today's 4G speeds but only over shorter distances.

According to the report, Google is not only testing transmissions at 28GHz but also experimenting with transmissions from a phased array to achieve a longer range to support services from a high-flying drone.

The project adds one more strand to Google's recent experiments with millimeter wave technology. Google X, the unit responsible for its air-ballon access initiative Project Loon, recently applied for an experimental license to test transmissions at 71GHz to 76GHz and the 81GHz to 86GHz ranges across the US.

Additionally, Google in 2014 sought to use these bands under an FCC application signed by the head of its Google Access division, driving speculation it was exploring its use for Google Fiber, one of many initiatives that fall under the unit's remit.

According to the Guardian, Project SkyBender is also being run by Google Access, which has built two millimeter wave transceivers, one near Spaceport America's Spaceport Operations Center and another four miles away at the Vertical Launch Area, as well as a repeater tower.

The aircraft supporting Project SkyBender include an "optionally-piloted" aircraft called Centaur and Google's own solar-power drones made by Google Titan, which have wingspans of up to 50m (164ft).

Google acquired Titan Aerospace in 2014 and reportedly has plans for its staff to work closely with Project Loon members.

The FCC has permitted Google to continue testing SkyBender in New Mexico until July, according to the Guardian.

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