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First it was high-altitude balloons. Then it was solar-powered drones. Now, Google says it will launch a fleet of high-capacity, low-orbit satellites to bring wireless broadband Internet access to the 4.8 billion people who still don’t have it.

Many if not most of those people probably have more important things to worry about, but that isn’t stopping Google from planning to launch some 180 satellites at a cost of US$1-3 billion. And that’s just the first phase.

The satellite technology required is still under development, says an article in Business Standard. The work is being done by Greg Wyler, the founder of satellite-communications start-up O3b Networks who recently joined Google. (“O3b” stands for “the other 3 billion.”)

In April, Google announced that it had bought solar-powered drone manufacturer Titan Aerospace, which will provide a fleet of drones that can stay aloft for as long as five years. And the company’s Project Loon plans to use balloons to provide Internet coverage.

“Atmospheric satellites could help bring internet access to millions of people, and help solve other problems, including disaster relief and environmental damage like deforestation,” Google said when it acquired Titan.

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) isn’t the only one with its eyes on the skies, of course. Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) also has plans to deploy satellites, solar-powered drones and lasers to expand Internet coverage.

Facebook was rumoured to be on the hunt for Titan Aerospace before Google bought it instead. Facebook then bought Titan’s competitor Ascenta.

Some media coverage has speculated that the Google and Facebook plans move both companies farther down the path to becoming mobile carriers in their own right.

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