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The Internet through balloons: Project Loon

Date: 
28 August 2014
Authored by: 
Daniel Oyston

While in Australia we have politicians arguing about how to provide us with sub-standard broadband, as usual, there are other people in the world just getting on with it. People who look at the world, and the problems they are trying to solve, and when they have an idea they prefer to say "Why not?" instead of "No, we can't do that!".

Most of us take Internet access for granted, even if it is slow compared to other countries, and we tend to talk about the world as a global community which is connected by the internet.

However, approximately two-thirds of the world’s population, about 4.65 Billion people, do not have Internet access. Google wants to change that and bring the Internet to those people.

Enter Google's aptly named Project Loon. Most likely 'Loon' is short for Balloon but I like to think that it is also a reference at what might, on the surface, seem like a loony idea.

What Is Project Loon?

Basically, it is providing the internet through balloons.

Project Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas as well as help fill coverage gaps.

10km in the air is about where commercial jets fly and the International Space Station sits at about 340km above the Earth. Google's Internet balloons will sit at 25km in the air.

The Technology

The balloons float in the stratosphere out of the reach of normal weather. There are still winds in the stratosphere, of varying speed and direction, so Google sends signals to the balloons to push them up or down into the winds and move them to where they are needed most.

People would then have a special Internet antenna, on their building, which connects to a balloon and bounces the signal in-between and connects to the global Internet down on Earth.

Testing

Google has run an experimental pilot, last year, in New Zealand, which saw a small test group try it out. The testing provided lots of great intel which is now being used to refine and improve the technology with more flights scheduled in California’s Central Valley.

While connecting the world even further is a great endeavour, for me, one the most exciting applications will be the ability of Emergency Response teams to use the technology to coordinate recovery efforts after disasters. Not only will the teams be able to coordinate better but it will give them the opportunity to more easily get communications out to those affected by the disaster.

Check out the video below for some great behind the scenes footage and explanations. You can also find out more at the Project Loon website.