by Tom Koulopoulos
Bezos has announced an out of this world initiative that may well eclipse everything else Amazon has done so far and may turn out to be one of humanity’s most ambitious technological achievements.
One of the things that’s always struck me as the largest untapped opportunity for Internet enabled business, commerce, and humanity is the simple, but often overlooked fact, that roughly half of the world’s population still does not have access to the Internet.
Still, we talk about e-commerce, the web, and Internet access as though it was a universal human right. In many ways I’d argue that Internet access may very well be much closer to the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs than its pinnacle. In my opinion, locking half of humanity out of the online world is the greatest global inequity that impedes our progress as a civilization. The reason is simply that if you have access to the Internet you can get access to most anything else that you need; not the least of which is influence, education, and a global community to assist you.
Calling universal access to the Internet a basic human right makes perfect sense in theory, but in practice we are far from it.
The challenge in creating universal access to the Internet is twofold.
First, the standard means by which we access the Internet is through communications channels and networks that just don’t reach much of the world. Fiber, broadband, high speed cable, and even standard telecom access is just too costly to justify its use in remote or less economically developed regions of the world, of for than matter even rural North Amrica.
“Simply put, this would be one of humanity’s most ambitious technological achievements.”
Second, by just about any measure, the four billion people who do not have access to the Internet are economically disenfranchised because they do not have an immutable identity, the ability to open a bank account, or access to credit.
That second point can be easily addressed through technologies such as blockchain and access to cryptocurrencies. Something that’s on the horizon through platforms such as Facebook and their upcoming Libra asset-backed cryptocurrency.
But the first challenge is monumental. And without universal access to the Internet even blockchain does nothing to help the four billion humans who are effectively persona non grata when it comes to being part of the online world.
Step in Bezos and Amazon, which announced earlier this year a vision that has long been discussed, using a far-reaching orbital array of global satellites to enable access to the Internet from anyplace on the planet.
As originally reported by CNBC, Amazon said that it would be “launching a network of 3,236 small satellites to create an interconnected network that beams high-speed internet to anywhere on Earth.”
Called Project Kuiper, the objective is to do what, until now, very few other private or public entity have had the wherewithal, appetite, or incentive to do; finally provide true universal connectivity.
Named after an orbital area in the solar system that extends from Neptune’s orbit to approximately 50 Astronomical Units from the Sun (One AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun), the ring of satellites would blanket the Earth from outer space, providing connectivity across every point on the surface of the globe.
Morgan Stanley projects the space economy to reach upwards of $1 trillion in market size over the next two decades, with Amazon potentially projected to capture $100 billion of that market.
Bezos is far from alone. Elon Musk has announced similar plans with SpaceX, putting their first 60 satellites into orbit in May of this year in an effort named StarLink. Musk has stated StarLink will be economically viable at 1000 satellites with an upper limit of 12,000 satellites deployed. Softbank has also launced its first OneWeb satellite for testing and plans to start deploying up to 1,200 satellites.
The implications of all of this, when coupled with technologies such as blockchain, would be extraordinary in terms of both economic and social impact. Simply put, this would be one of humanity’s most ambitious technological achievements.
For the first time in history every human would be able to participate in the global economy. Granted, that participation might be slim at first, but it opens the door to an opportunity that is far more radical in its ability to shape civilization than anything we’ve ever experienced.
Although Amazon didn’t propose a timeline for project Kuiper, the joint efforts of SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon will likely result in the ability to achieve global connectivity through one or all of these players satellites over the next few years.
What does all of this mean? Well, from Amazons standpoint it’s doubling the size of their potential market. From the broader standpoint of global commerce, consider what it might mean to double the number of potential consumers and the economic value of being able to control access to half of the world’s population. And, perhaps most importantly, from the standpoint of living up to the greater mission of creating a truly democratized civilization, it distributes the promise of opportunity equally among 8-10 billon people.
The consequences are beyond anything we can today imagine; literally, out of this world!
This article was originally published on Inc.
Image credit: Pixabay
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Tom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.