NASA has selected Nokia as the official cellular provider to the moon. The Finnish telco won a $14.1 million contract to build a 4G LTE base station on the moon by 2022 as part of the Artemis program, NASA’s effort to establish a sustained human presence on its nearest celestial neighbor.
That means the lunar surface will have 4G coverage before roughly 4.5 billion earthlings do.
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Just 3.9 billion people (51% of the world’s population) had some form of internet access in 2018, according to data from American IT conglomerate Cisco. The company predicts that by 2023, when the lunar cell network is up and running, two-thirds of the globe—5.3 billion people—will be online.
But not all internet access is equal. In 2023, about a third of internet-enabled mobile devices will connect to 2G or 3G networks, Cisco predicts. That leaves about 4.5 billion people with no internet access or slower mobile connections than NASA astronauts would be using to virtually control lunar rovers and stream high definition video of their adventures.
Back on Earth, equitable access to the internet—mobile and otherwise—is making slow progress. Rural electric co-ops are working to connect their members to high-speed broadband and telecom companies are swatting down local efforts to give more people internet access. But the moon is already starting to get swept up into the hype around next-generation 5G networks.
In a press release announcing the 4G LTE contract, Nokia wrote that it plans “to pursue space applications of LTE’s successor technology, 5G.” That type of speed would, at long last, allow an astronaut to download the entire Dark Knight trilogy of Batman movies in less than 20 seconds.
Unfortunately for entertainment-starved space explorers, NASA seems to be more focused on “vital command and control functions” like real-time navigation and data transmission. Perhaps by 2028, when the space agency aims to establish a semi-permanent lunar base, the engineers will see the value of devoting some bandwidth to uploading their low-gravity dance moves to TikTok.