By Matt Grossman 

Google's parent company is winding down a project that used highflying balloons to provide internet access in hard-to-reach regions of the world.

The project, known as Loon, launched in 2013 and aimed to connect people in remote places where traditional ground-based infrastructure was too expensive or too difficult to install. But Loon, which was overseen by Alphabet Inc., wasn't able to reduce costs enough to make its business model sustainable, the project's leader, Alastair Westgarth, wrote in a blog post on Thursday.

"Developing radical new technology is inherently risky, but that doesn't make breaking this news any easier," Mr. Westgarth wrote.

Loon's technology sent gas-filled polyethylene balloons the size of tennis courts into the stratosphere, typically to altitudes of around 60,000 to 75,000 feet. There, onboard communications equipment beamed internet signals back down to earth. The system was able deliver mobile coverage to an area 200 times greater than a typical ground-based cell tower, Mr. Westgarth wrote.

Partnerships brought Loon internet coverage to developing countries and areas affected by natural disasters. In 2015, Alphabet said that Loon would help expand internet access in Indonesia, where two thirds of the country's 250 million people weren't online at the time.

Two years later, the project deployed balloons to the skies above Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria damaged the island's communications infrastructure.

Because floating balloons move across the Earth's surface with the surrounding air, Loon's vessels drifted at the mercy of high-altitude winds. The balloons could automatically climb and descend to find winds that would help keep them in the right place, Loon said.

Loon held at least 1,750 balloon launches since 2013 and its balloons logged more than 1 million flight hours.

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 22, 2021 10:18 ET (15:18 GMT)

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