Big plans for connecting over half the world
It’s a spectacular-sounding goal: thousands – perhaps even tens of thousands – of tiny satellites in low Earth orbit beaming the internet to anyone, anywhere. OneWeb is the name of one firm planning to do this. It launched its first six satellites in February. The ultimate aim is to broadcast a mobile internet signal that anyone, anywhere, can connect to with a smartphone.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX also plans to launch a constellation of internet-beaming satellites, as does Amazon. There may eventually be more than one satellite network competing to offer broadband internet around the world this way. The impact this could have on employment is staggering.
“OneWeb are looking to put up around 1,900 satellites. SpaceX are going close to 12,000,” says Christopher Newman, a professor of space law and policy at Northumbria University. Currently, there are about 2,000 commercial satellites in orbit around the Earth, so the increase would be massive.
“We’re talking about a genuine disruption to the space environment.”
He says the topic needs a “dose of realism” – it’s not yet clear whether these satellite constellations will be cost-effective to run or if they’ll create too much space debris, polluting the orbital environment. But if they do take off, Newman thinks it will change the world of work drastically.
How wider internet coverage will affect work
Madgavkar says that what’s happening in India is an early indicator of how other economies might change, should internet coverage reach all corners of the planet. She explains that the vast majority of Indian workers are engaged in informal or self-employed work known as “micro enterprises”. Like the lunch runners, this is work that could conceivably be arranged via apps – Uber for anything.