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Google balloon-based connectivity project takes to skies

Google's Project Loon

Google is embarking on an ambitious project to provide wireless internet connectivity to hard to reach or extremely rural areas using helium-filled balloons. The firm said the project is aimed at bringing fast and affordable internet to those for whom it is currently out of reach.

Project Loon will see Google releasing specialised weather balloons into the stratosphere to float at around 20km above the Earth’s surface. The balloons are naturally moved around the Earth by winds and can be steered by elevating or descending to an altitude at which the winds are moving in the desired direction.

Users can connect to the balloon network using a dedicated antenna attached to their building. According to Google, the ballons form a floating mesh network, so the signal bounces from balloon to balloon, then connects back to global internet on Earth.

The venture is by no means new, nor is it full of hot air, if specialist communications outfit Space Data is to be believed. Google took an interest in the US company, which provides specialised communications services to the military and various industrial outfits, back in 2008.

Space Data’s business model is to provide low cost platforms for rural and remote data and voice communication applications via its high altitude SkySite network, which consists of an array of balloons equipped with a box of transceivers and other gadgets.

“There are many terrestrial challenges to internet connectivity—jungles, archipelagos, mountains. There are also major cost challenges. Right now, for example, in most of the countries in the southern hemisphere, the cost of an internet connection is more than a month’s income,” said Mike Cassidy, project lead on Project Loon.

“Solving these problems isn’t simply a question of time: it requires looking at the problem of access from new angles. So today we’re unveiling our latest moonshot from Google[x]: balloon-powered Internet access.”

The project kicks off this month with a pilot trial in New Zealand.

It’s also worth noting that also in 2008, Google began investing in O3b Networks, a satellite operator focusing on markets in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

 


3 comments

  1. Frans Peralta 18/06/2013 @ 2:51 pm

    It is an execellent idea and I would like to know more about this project for the application to rural áreas in Peru. I am an engineer working as teacher at the Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria (UNI)at Lima, Peru. If we can help you, please contact me by e-mail: fperalta@uni.edu.pe or fransperalta@gmail.com

    Best Regards,

    Frans Peralta

  2. Juan Navarro 18/06/2013 @ 3:35 pm

    It is not feasible to do that with hot air balloons. The Google balloons are helium ones.

  3. satya n gupta 19/06/2013 @ 1:22 am

    A great idea whose time has come. This was talked about earlier also in limited sense and in HAPS context, but now the time to Walk the Talk and make it happen. In fact the concept can be extended further to Mobile telephony also in rural and remote ares with difficult terrain. Just an example, 40000 pf rural villeges in India are still unconnected to mobile terristial network because of technical non feasibility. It seems there is a solution from sky on the horizon. Let us make it Happen.
    Satyen sngupta57@yahoo.com

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