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Internet in the Sky: a small business guide

Free internet from Google may soon cut business telecoms bills. Understanding this and the Internet of Things may unlock real growth opportunities.

Free internet may sound like a pipe dream but internet giant google is actually hoping to offer free online connections in the next few years.

Free wireless internet access is already available in a remote area of New Zealand though its Project Loon. This futuristic programme allows Google to offer free internet access from its balloon fleet, although there are also other efforts – Project Fi and Project Fibre – to widen online access. Google is even investing $1 billion in a space satellite company SpaceX to offer better connections to extend coverage to remote or rural areas that where service is uneconomic. The incremental cost for Google to offer free wireless net access from the sky is negligible so there seems little reason not to offer such services in the UK.

But why would a company like Google offer its service for free? “Unlike traditional telecoms companies like BT, Google’s business model is focused on the back end. The more people that log in, the more searches there are and the more money they make from advertising,” says John Straw, author of iDisrupted.

Beyond cheaper business internet

The obvious advantage for small businesses is saving on telecoms bills. But Straw advises UK small businesses to look beyond cuts in bills to see valuable opportunities for growth.

Innovative use of free ‘sky internet’ services can pay dividends, especially when combined with other emerging technological advances. “The ‘internet of things’ is another very important development to bear in mind. By 2019 it is expected that over one trillion devices will be connected to the internet.”

The miniaturisation and falling price of computer chips under Moore’s Law means that these will soon become as ordinary and disposable as barcodes. “A business could attached these to its goods so it can see where its items are in transit. Equally, purchasers can track where their orders are and ensure timely delivery,” Straw adds.

The possibilities are exciting – many employers will be eager to explore the potential for better tracking of their employees. However, Straw warns that extreme care must be taken because of strict privacy legislation: “It is possible to address some of these issues by tracking materials rather than people. So, for example, a cleaning firm may offer its cleaners (but not force them to wear) gloves that have microchips inside.” Still, a very careful examination of the potential legal exposures is strongly advised.

Overall, “innovation is key”, Straw stresses. “The first step should be to brainstorm what you could offer with free internet access and tiny computer chips. Think about how you could expand and/or improve your products or services. You can then begin to prepare for what will be a telecoms revolution.”

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