November 30th, 2018: Updated to clarify Google’s projects.

There are still 3.8 billion people in the world who don’t have internet access, and companies have been trying to change that.

Chinese company LinkSure said that it’s planning to invest 3 billion yuan (US$431 million) to launch 272 satellites by 2026, aiming to provide free internet for the entire world. The first, LinkSure No 1, will be launched next year, and the first 10 will be in orbit before 2020, the company claims.

Many see satellite internet -- internet provided by, you guessed it, satellites -- as the solution to getting more people in remote areas onto the web, which the current ground-based cable internet is not able to do because of various landscape challenges. But similar attempts by some of the world’s biggest internet companies have not been very successful.

Google’s parent company Alphabet ended its Project Loon last year, which attempted to send up solar-powered drones to beam down internet access. A similar project by Facebook, named Aquila, was also shut down this year after its earlier space initiative using Eutelsat satellites to bring the internet to Africa -- internet.org -- failed in 2016. But both Facebook and SpaceX are still trying.

Google ended Project Titan last year, which attempted to send up solar-powered drones to beam down internet access. A similar project by Facebook, named Aquila, was also shut down this year after its earlier space initiative using Eutelsat satellites to bring internet to Africa -- internet.org, failed in 2016. But Facebook is still working on a new internet satellite, and SpaceX is planning a 12,000-satellite constellation. Meanwhile Google's Project Loon wants to bring the internet to rural areas with balloons.

LinkSure says the satellites will operate in low Earth orbit, with 200 located 600 kilometers above Earth’s surface and 72 at 1000 kilometers. (Picture: CCTV)

If you haven’t heard of LinkSure, don’t worry because it’s not even widely known in China, even though its main product is one of the most popular apps in the country.

Its Wi-Fi Master Key, an app that crowdsources Wi-Fi login details and lets users hop on other private networks, boasts 900 million users and at one point had more downloads than WeChat. It’s attracted attention from state media, who called it out in April for “unscrupulously stealing passwords” and exposing private information.

But this time, LinkSure’s plan to launch the satellites has been endorsed by authorities, who have been encouraging private companies to explore the commercial use of space. On Thursday, a post titled “China’s first private Wi-Fi satellite”, referring to LinkSure’s claim, was put at the top of Weibo’s Hot Search section -- a spot specifically designed for propaganda topics. State broadcaster CCTV also ran a segment dedicated to its announcement, saying in a Weibo post that there will no longer be any “Wi-Fi blindspot”.

But it’s also met with doubters from social media. Some people question the app maker’s ability to make it happen and the claim that its satellite internet service will be free. In response to that, LinkSure said it will charge enterprises, not consumers.

Many are also taking the opportunity to make fun of China’s internet censorship. “Does it come with the Great Firewall?” one user joked on Weibo.