Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin are all competing to save the world by running it. It's no coincidence then that they've all announced their intentions to provide free WiFi to the entire planet. There are 4.8 billion people who still can't get online. That's a lot of potential customers.
Facebook's strategy is to launch a gazillion solar-powered drones over the skies of remote rural locations in Asia and Africa where people have no access to the web. Super-precise lasers will beam the signal from drone to drone, creating a kind of aerial internet. They've already built a prototype drone plane out of carbon fiber, and despite having the wingspan of a 737, it weighs less than half the weight of a Prius. It'll shoot signals down to cell towers from an altitude between 60,000 and 90,000 feet (18,000 and 27,000 meters), high above commercial air traffic. Speeds will allegedly be 10 gigabits per second — that's even faster than fiber-optic cables [source: Vanian].
And if Google has its way, there'll be a lot more beaming going on. The working solution is, again, to go up. But the search engine behemoth isn't fooling around with the mesosphere. Google's plan is shoot 180 satellites into low orbit so they can spread the connectivity revolution. They're also talking about using drones and hot air balloons to augment the network [source: Zolfagharifard].
Not to be outdone, or rather, to outdo everybody else, as usual, Musk is also planning to shoot enough satellites into space to provide global WiFi access. But whereas Facebook and Google speak of free access, the Tesla Motors CEO would like to turn a profit. And proving, once again, that he's the most ambitious man on or off planet, the profits he's banking on will be earmarked for the construction of a city on Mars [source: Metzger]. It almost goes without saying.