The idea is not new, other companies provide this type of connectivity via balloons and have been for years. The applications thus far have been rather limited however.
Project Loon actually has potential to be far more meaningful to Google in the short-term, compared to other initiatives like Google Fiber and Glass. Since Google is an ad company, getting more people on-line has a direct benefit to Google’s bottom line.
The project entails launching balloons that will float in the stratosphere, as high as 10-20 kilometers above earth. The initial test is being conducted in the Canterbury and Christchurch areas of New Zealand. The balloons are powered by solar panels, and the equipment is hung beneath the inflated balloon.
Each balloon should be able to provide coverage that spans a ground area of about 40 kilometers in diameter providing speeds approximate to what 3G is capable of providing now. The radio bands being used for the test are in the unlicensed spectrum of 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz.
The advantages over satellite connectivity are obvious, managing balloons is far less expensive than launching a rocket. The technical challenges that will be examined will of course be related to performance, latency, and how easy the proof of concept works to control the balloons. The last thing anyone needs to happen is to see one of these things descend into the flight paths of commercial air traffic.
One item that seems to be a variable is wind speed. Google claims the wind speed in the stratosphere is slow, thus making balloon survivability feasible. However, anyone with any connection to aviation knows that winds-aloft tend to get quite high, as in hundreds of miles per hour.
Nonetheless, Google’s idea does hold water, and since the concept is already in use through other applications, Google’s plan to take it a step further will be interesting to watch take to the air. The pictures and videos tell the rest of the story.
sources: Forbes, The Guardian (photo credits), and Google (Project Loon)