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

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)



1. _Bone_

Posts: 2155; Member since: Oct 29, 2012

Loonatics. :)

2. mottykels

Posts: 387; Member since: May 15, 2013

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

14. mafiaprinc3

Posts: 585; Member since: May 07, 2012

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

3. jiezel91

Posts: 67; Member since: Jul 28, 2011

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

4. Napalm_3nema

Posts: 2236; Member since: Jun 14, 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.

5. nobelset

Posts: 270; Member since: Oct 17, 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.

7. Napalm_3nema

Posts: 2236; Member since: Jun 14, 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.

9. jroc74

Posts: 6023; Member since: Dec 30, 2010

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

13. jromy

Posts: 114; Member since: Feb 26, 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.

6. rusticguy

Posts: 2828; Member since: Aug 11, 2012

Funded by PRISM?

8. Napalm_3nema

Posts: 2236; Member since: Jun 14, 2013

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

10. daniel_bargs

Posts: 325; Member since: Nov 27, 2010

This is a great contribution to mankind. GOOD GOOGLE!

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.

12. Ric.B

Posts: 8; Member since: Jun 17, 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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