“Project loon”, as Google calls it, is yet another innovative and hopeful project the company undertook secretly and now testing with a pilot program in New Zealand. The plan is to connect the whole world to internet using (it may sound really crazy) balloons.
As the official Google blog said, We believe that it might actually be possible to build a ring of balloons, flying around the globe on the stratospheric winds and that provides Internet access to the earth below. It’s very early days, but we’ve built a system that uses balloons, carried by the wind at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes, to beam Internet access to the ground at speeds similar to today’s 3G networks or faster.
The secretive X lab, also responsible for the development of Google glass and driverless car has developed these helium balloons after working for 18 months which would constitute a flying network. The balloons would take their power through solar panels swinging below which can charge them in almost 4 hours to go through one entire day. Navigating around 20 kilometers above the surface of the earth (altitude where planes travel), the balloons would communicate with the receiver stations on the ground. The signals would be transferred from one balloon to other, along a trail backbone of up to 5 balloons and each balloon is capable enough to provide service to an area of about 1250 square kilometers (twice the size of New York). The signals would be communicated in the unlicensed spectrum, thus sparing Google of the regulatory processes of the wireless networks.
The main aim of the project is to provide connectivity to remote and rural areas, curbing the divide between 4.8 billion unwired people and the 2.2 billion people connected to the internet. Google says, it aims to provide internet access to two out of three people on earth and also to help maintain communications during and after natural disasters. If the project is successful, it can reduce the cost of implementing fiber cables and may raise the internet usage in less economic countries of Africa and Southeast Asia. “It’s a huge moonshot. A really big goal to go after,” said project leader Mike Cassidy. “The power of the Internet is probably one of the most transformative technologies of our time.”
The company chose New Zealand as the pilot project location because of its remoteness but is looking to launch another trial through Australia, Chile and Paraguay as soon as it gets partners for the next phase.
Soon, we might see a time when data is tapped from balloons floating all over the sky.