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Oh, the Huge Manatee! Google's US Loon Tests Renewed Into 2020

Dan Jones
5/26/2017

Google may have had its ups and downs with Project Loon -- a project to deliver low-cost wireless Internet from high-altitude balloons -- but the company is now cleared for take-off to carry on tests in Nevada until the middle of 2020

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has just renewed Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s parent company -- Alphabet Inc. -- X R&D unit's license to test wireless connectivity up to 75,500 feet. The license covers a 100km (62 mile) area in Winnemucca, Nev. -- the base of operations for previous Loon tests in the US -- as well as unspecified areas in California, Idaho, and Utah.

The license runs until June 2020.

The license enables Google to test connections in the 70GHz to 80GHz range in the air. These are frequencies in the très fashionable millimeter wave band, which is also being floated (geddit?) for 5G services and fixed broadband in the US. (See Fixed Wireless Revival: Windstream Eyes New Multi-Megabit Markets in US.)

Google has previously said that it eventually wants Loon to deliver up deliver up to 10 Mbit/s to devices on the ground. Each balloon could provide connectivity over 4,000 sq km, or twice the area of an average tower, using high-frequency free-space optics to connect the balloon to backhaul on the ground, the company has said. (See Broadband Aloft Can Connect 1 Billion.)

The new license paperwork covers renewal on the call sign "WH2XUP" listed in the original -- heavily redacted -- documentation from November 2014.

Google originally asked for a license to test Loon for 24 months, starting in January 2016. Light Reading has asked the X team for any further details they can give us about the extended tests. We'll update the story if they get back with any juicy new details.

Oh yeah, we mentioned the ups and downs right? Google's balloons have crashed in Nevada, and been mistaken for a UFO in Columbia. Hey, nobody said moonshots were easy!

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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DanJones
DanJones
5/31/2017 | 1:46:17 PM
Re: connecting to the sky
Seven

 

They started testing with a WiFi-like system. Now they seem to be testing with a 70-80GHz connection that bounces off a basestation on the ground that sends signals up to populate among the balloon network. They haven't exactly been effusive with technical details, unsurprisingly.
brooks7
brooks7
5/31/2017 | 1:13:52 PM
Re: connecting to the sky
 

And a James Bond supervillain, who is gushing cash at a quite rapid rate :)

seven

 
mendyk
mendyk
5/31/2017 | 9:29:18 AM
Re: connecting to the sky
Except that SpaceX is led by a potential James Bond supervillain.
brooks7
brooks7
5/30/2017 | 9:37:54 PM
Re: connecting to the sky
So, they are going to make WiFi work at 15 Miles (75,000 ft)?  Or are they going to use it to power something on the ground...which you can do with any connection.  Not sure I want a transmitter that can send back to the balloon next to my head.

There are other actors as well like I said, I didn't research it more than 5 minutes and found we have coverage.  Just saying.

seven

 
DanJones
DanJones
5/30/2017 | 6:54:58 PM
Re: connecting to the sky
Not sure that's any more or less of a moonshot than Project Loon at this point though...
DanJones
DanJones
5/30/2017 | 6:48:14 PM
Re: connecting to the sky
Coupla points:

 

Google is trying to make this work with LTE and WiFi, so that a broadband service is easily accessible to users. Immarsat's BGAN tops out around 400-kbit/s could be interesting for IoT but not for broadband.

Google is doing this to eventually boost their revenue, hence they need a relatively fast data connection. If they can get cheap wireless broadband going, they get more served mobile ad revenue. They might couch it as altruistic, but opening up broadband access benefits them in the end.
brooks7
brooks7
5/30/2017 | 6:05:02 PM
Re: connecting to the sky
So, I did a Google Search...

Here is the coverage map of the very first company that I clicked on:

http://www.groundcontrol.com/bgan/BGAN_Global_Coverage_Map.pdf

As I said, I think we have essentially 100% Internet coverage today.  It may be too costly.  But I don't think "bringing Internet where there is none" seems like a likely explanation for Project Loon.  Reducing the cost of rural Broadband maybe?

seven

 
mendyk
mendyk
5/30/2017 | 5:15:21 PM
Re: connecting to the sky
SpaceX has said it's looking into launching a "constellation" of thousands of LEO satellites. Kind of like an Iridium 2.0.
brooks7
brooks7
5/30/2017 | 4:55:45 PM
Re: connecting to the sky
I am talking about the existing satellites.  Oil and Gas companies use sat comms globallly...so it has to be like everywhere today.  I mean right now this second.  It may be too expensive...but I think 100% global coverage is close if not actual as we speak.  That is what I am asking.

seven

 
DanJones
DanJones
5/30/2017 | 4:23:05 PM
Re: connecting to the sky
Who's gonna pay to put up satellites with the latest tech on board though? Google is clearly looking for a cheaper way to get a baseline of connectivity to people. Will it work? Well there's the rub, right?
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