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Google (GOOG) unveils Project Loon, an initiative aiming to provide Web access for the entire...

Google (GOOG) unveils Project Loon, an initiative aiming to provide Web access for the entire world using (believe it or not) hot-air balloons. The balloons, meant to connect "rural, remote, and underserved areas," would be "carried by the wind at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes," and deliver 3G or faster speeds. Google modestly admits the idea presents challenges, but says its use of wind/solar power to control where the balloons go, and algorithms to determine where to send them, could make it work. A pilot program is underway in New Zealand. It's safe to call this one of Larry Page's moonshot projects.
Comments (15)
  • It doesn't sound too far fetched to me. Balloons or dirigibles. That is the most cost-effective method I can think of to deliver web access to otherwise unreachable areas of the world.
    15 Jun 2013, 12:44 AM Reply Like
  • Is this for altruistic purposes or for profit. I assume for profit, but who exactly is in remote areas to benefit? Well, to benefit the coffers of Google through ad-clicks?
    15 Jun 2013, 01:04 AM Reply Like
    15 Jun 2013, 01:13 AM Reply Like
  • I would think that anyone in a remote area benefits from this. But how does Google get a return on it? Good question. The most probable answer is subsidies. The U.S. government pays a handsome one just to keep a dirigible force for strategic purposes. About as obsolete as that Jones Act.
    15 Jun 2013, 01:17 AM Reply Like
  • Basically Google is threatening to supplant Iridium and Verizon and Comcast to some degree here by building their own data network. The question is whether or not airships can operate as cost-efficiently as cell phone towers (or satellites in the case of Iridium) in providing data coverage. A big airship has line of sight to a lot bigger radius than a cell phone tower can, but of course a lot smaller than a satellite. Some of the questions here are: how much does the necessary equipment actually weigh, how fast does the signal degrade with distance, and how much do cell phone tower leases and construction cost.


    There is no question that a data network like this can work, the only question is how much it would cost to build relative to the competition. Airships are not cheap now but could get pretty cheap if they were being mass produced for this kind of thing.
    15 Jun 2013, 01:40 AM Reply Like
  • Google is trying to tangle itself into all cell phone carriers and ISPs. This is not a "moonshot idea" and is rather an attempt at gaining access to all data, regardless of consumer choice. Anyone else see this as a major anti-trust issue? Consumers wont be able to opt out of Google without opting out of using the Internet altogether. Although this could be good for regions of the world without Internet, Google should not be allowed to have this much control over the industry.
    15 Jun 2013, 01:58 AM Reply Like
  • Guru - I don't understand your comment. There aren't any significant barriers to entry for other participants (it's balloons and algorithms). A Comcast or any other player that wanted to could compete in this space if they wanted. Why would you advocate stifling a free market to protect the "natives"? If there's a market there you can count on others joining GOOG as fast as they can. If there's no market then the "natives" can just choose not to join the internet, it's actually not really a choice - they're doing that now.
    15 Jun 2013, 09:47 AM Reply Like
  • Well, I can see Google breaking into this and then spreading their wings so to speak into areas where they could gain a foothold where cell towers now dominate. They would have a smaller footprint than a LEO, but they would be a very very low LEO that could relay either to a repeater in the sky, or an earth based one.
    15 Jun 2013, 02:11 AM Reply Like
    15 Jun 2013, 06:32 AM Reply Like
  • Nice link bd4. Thanks. They don't need a whole lot of power for this to operate. One can talk all the way around the world with only 5 watts under the right conditions. People do it using HF all the time.
    15 Jun 2013, 09:57 AM Reply Like
  • Do those areas even have power for your internet devices? Maybe it will wirelessly transmit the power too? ;)
    15 Jun 2013, 12:02 PM Reply Like
  • If they have the devices, they obviously have power coming from some source.
    15 Jun 2013, 04:14 PM Reply Like
  • I guess air traffic control is a non-issue?
    15 Jun 2013, 04:25 PM Reply Like
  • Nope. Anything that goes up in the air needs approval. They'd have to get permission from the ITU for whatever frequencies they use also.
    15 Jun 2013, 04:29 PM Reply Like
  • Yep, I just thought it was weird that none pointed out the obvious, why is Google so sure that ITU would approve adding thousands of balloons, at relatively fixed positions, to air space?
    15 Jun 2013, 06:12 PM Reply Like
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