Google Parent Ends Project That Provided Internet From Balloons
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
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
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 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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