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Google launching Project Loon – balloons that provide Wi-Fi connectivity for rural areas

Posted: , by Maxwell R.

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Google launching Project Loon – balloons that provide Wi-Fi connectivity for rural areas
Google has launched 30 test balloons in New Zealand to examine the feasibility of providing internet connectivity via balloon. Our seasoned readers may recall way back in 2008 this concept was discussed under the auspices that Google might float some balloons to provide cellular service in rural areas.

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)


14 Comments
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posted on 16 Jun 2013, 18:18 2

1. _Bone_ (Posts: 2110; Member since: 29 Oct 2012)


Loonatics. :)

posted on 16 Jun 2013, 18:51

2. mottykels (Posts: 370; Member since: 15 May 2013)


Much better if they provide LTE signal for the rural ;)

posted on 17 Jun 2013, 07:55

14. mafiaprinc3 (Posts: 307; Member since: 07 May 2012)


alot of people in the rural may not have lte capable devices but wi-fi capable devices. ever thought of the big head

posted on 16 Jun 2013, 18:56 6

3. jiezel91 (Posts: 57; Member since: 28 Jul 2011)


I love that Google want every person to have internet access. This is a meaningful initiative.

posted on 16 Jun 2013, 19:58 1

4. Napalm_3nema (Posts: 862; Member since: 14 Jun 2013)


It would be admirable if their motives were altruistic. However, we know it is to get more eyeballs in order to serve ads to them. Still, nothing wrong with being proactive, but let's not confuse it with what it really is.

posted on 16 Jun 2013, 20:53 3

5. nobelset (Posts: 268; Member since: 17 Oct 2012)


They can use these balloons and provide free Internet in urban areas where the density of Internet users is a lot more. But using these in places like Africa means they do want to benefit the people too. Of course their business goals are still there, but things like this benefit us all.

posted on 16 Jun 2013, 22:05 1

7. Napalm_3nema (Posts: 862; Member since: 14 Jun 2013)


Chances are that if you are in an urban area, they already have access to you. Google has to keep adding users to services to maintain growth. Serving products, err, "customers" they already have is a case of diminishing returns.

posted on 16 Jun 2013, 23:09

9. jroc74 (Posts: 4720; Member since: 30 Dec 2010)


End justifies the means.

I dont care as long as Wifi is available in more places. Bottom line.....how many of the other tech giants do we see doing this....

posted on 17 Jun 2013, 06:21

13. jromy (Posts: 113; Member since: 26 Feb 2013)


What a sad view of the world when you can't even do a good thing without people twisting it around to make you look greedy. Yes they want people to access the internet, but for rural areas the number of "customers" would be next to nothing when compared to cost of getting them online. There are many charities that aim to get as much people as possible online, but when a tech giant does it than it's all greed! I'm sure that schools in remote areas and people that have barely seen what the whole internetz thing is about on TV want none of google's greedy offers.

posted on 16 Jun 2013, 21:36

6. rusticguy (Posts: 2826; Member since: 11 Aug 2012)


Funded by PRISM?

posted on 16 Jun 2013, 22:08

8. Napalm_3nema (Posts: 862; Member since: 14 Jun 2013)


No, as always when talking about Google, funding is provided by the benevolent venture capital firm, In-Q-Tel. Nothing to fear.

posted on 17 Jun 2013, 00:23 1

10. daniel_bargs (Posts: 323; Member since: 27 Nov 2010)


This is a great contribution to mankind. GOOD GOOGLE!

posted on 17 Jun 2013, 01:32 2

11. Zeus.k (unregistered)


Gotta love Google for this. I don't care if they serve ads or not but this could mean a lot to the people in developing countries. It has the potential to change lives. Kudos to Google.

posted on 17 Jun 2013, 03:07

12. Ric.B (Posts: 8; Member since: 17 Jun 2013)


To Maxwell R, slower winds in the stratosphere is not a just a "claim" by Google. It is actually supported by studies several of which you can easily google with "investigation of stratospheric winds". One of the studies showed a graph where you can see that average wind speeds in this region is around 20 m/s, which translates to around 45-46 mph (a lot less than the hundreds you mentioned in your article). The graph did show that at one point wind speeds did peak at 50 m/s (about 114 mph) but it quickly went back down to the 10-20 m/s range.

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