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NASA is building a 4G network on the moon before 2022

The space agency is looking to launch a 4G mobile network on the moon before 2022, and Nokia has been identified as a surprise partner to build it.

Just as 5G arrives to planet Earth, it appears its predecessor is headed to the moon. Not even astronauts will get away with leaving people on ‘read’ soon.

NASA raised eyebrows today with the news that it’s teaming up with Nokia as part of a $14.1 million mission to establish a 4G network on the moon before 2022.

The space agency called on Nokia-owned research company Bell Labs to draw up plans for a localised transmission that will allow astronauts to navigate lunar geography in real time, control roaming rovers, and even livestream high definition videos direct from the cratered surface. Do it for the ‘gram.

5G may have just become a thing, with Apple unveiling the iPhone 12 as the first phone range to support 4G’s successor network, but NASA and Bell Labs are already drawing up plans for their lunar 4G service with an eventual 5G upgrade in mind. ‘The system could support lunar surface communications at greater distances, increased speeds, and provide more reliability than current standards,’ NASA said of the 4G (to 5G) Artemis program.

Having invested upward of $370 million on developing lunar tech already in 2020, NASA is determined to establish a ‘sustainable human presence’ on the moon before 2028, making human voyages routine there for the first time since Apollo 17 in 1972. Elon Musk, who knows a thing or two about the logistics of making a planet habitable, has tasked his team of aerospace engineers at SpaceX with creating innovative landers to ground astronauts on the moon safely, and Jeff Bezos is also developing his own prototype with Blue Origins hoping to get the nod from NASA.

The race was already on between the two billionaires to pioneer the first constellation of low-orbit satellites for faster and more consistent internet speeds on Earth, but securing a partnership with NASA to facilitate the first expedition to the moon in five decades is an accomplishment neither will be keen to pass up. As it stands, Musk is odds on favourite – having received $53 million already from NASA for a demonstration involving the storing of ten metric tons of liquid oxygen on a starship vehicle.

So, is Mars exploration being put on the backburner then? In-fact, it’s quite the opposite. According to Jim Bridenstine, an administrator at NASA, harvesting cryogenic fluids from the moon is key to creating habitable pods on the Red Planet if we’re to embark on crewed research missions in the near future. Establishing a presence on the moon will allow us to farm these essential materials, whilst testing the capability of 4G/5G technology beyond our earthly dwelling.

Whilst all of this is undoubtedly cool, it is strange to think that we’re probably closer to having quality internet connections on an empty planet, than we are to providing decent broadband for the millions in developing and impoverished communities that could really use it. In a PR sense, it’s not great.

There are promising initiatives, such as Google owned-The Moonshot Factory’s ‘Loon,’ which provided steady internet to over 200,000 people during Hurricane Maria through a fleet of 4G balloons travelling 12 miles up in the stratosphere. Microsoft’s underwater server experiment proved a resounding success in bringing increased connectivity to coastal regions in 2020, and as previously mentioned, Musk and Bezos continue to launch more internet satellites into low orbit every year.

We’re not neglecting the need to address the broadband disparity that still exists in big old 2020, but perhaps a priority alignment is in order.

If I see an astronaut performing a TikTok dance on the moon in 2024, Twitter will need cryogenic treatment to combat the fire I’m bringing.