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Google Ready to Release Thousands of Loons

Sarah Thomas
4/20/2015
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Google has worked out the kinks in its Project Loon, and is gearing up to launch thousands of balloons to bring Internet to unconnected regions across the globe.

In a promo video released last week, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Loon Project Lead Mike Cassidy gave a status report on the company's long-held plans to use high-altitude balloons equipped with wireless radios to bring wireless connectivity around the world. It's been testing the pilot program with operators such as Vodafone New Zealand , Telefónica and Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS) since 2013. (See Broadband: It's All Hot Air for Google.)

Cassidy says that Google has improved the balloons to the point that they can last over 100 days in the air, and has reduced production time from days to hours. It can now launch dozens of balloons per day using its automated crane system. And, while Google initially envisioned delivering 3G speeds via Loon, it now says it can deliver ten times higher data rates using LTE. (See Bell Labs Chief Slams 'Toy' Networks.)

"If you look at the system today, it's amazing how much more advanced it is from being ten times higher data rate to the balloons lasting ten times as long, to the steer-ability of the balloon," Cassidy said in the video (below). "We've flown the tropics; we've flown the Artic regions -- the technology is working. We're getting close to the point where we can bring the Internet to people around the world."


For more on related topics, check out our LTE content channel here on Light Reading.


Loon is delivering LTE via partnerships with telcos that it hopes to get in every local region across the globe. It hasn't said whether it will also offer the service through these partners or direct to consumers, but the former sounds more likely. Tony Baird, CTO of early pilot partner Vodafone New Zealand, said it plans to use the balloons to bring the Internet to communities it doesn't currently reach. (See The New Internet Space Race: Google's Final Frontier?)

"Ultimately the goal of any Internet service provider is to have 100% geographic coverage and all the capacity and speed that people expect," Baird said. "Project Loon will help deliver that."

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

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t.bogataj
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t.bogataj,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/22/2015 | 6:17:52 AM
Loony
...says it all.
Mitch Wagner
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Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
4/21/2015 | 4:50:45 PM
Katharine Hepburn comments on Google's Project Loon
Mitch Wagner
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Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
4/21/2015 | 4:49:48 PM
Re: Look out for Loon
Just think, you'll never have to go anywhere you can't send a selfie. 
mendyk
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mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/21/2015 | 9:55:35 AM
Re: Look out for Loon
Someday, every square inch of this planet will have Internet access. You can decide whether or not that's a good thing.
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/20/2015 | 1:43:52 PM
Re: Look out for Loon
100% geographic coverage is, indeed, a lofty goal. I'm not sure that will ever be tenable, certainly not in the next few years.
sarahthomas1011
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sarahthomas1011,
User Rank: Light Beer
4/20/2015 | 12:21:46 PM
Re: Look out for Loon
Google hasn't elaborated a lot on the backhaul yet, but says that the balloons are used to extend the reach of operator's current wireless or fiber backhaul so that they can go beyond their current networks. I'm asking for more details.
brooks7
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50%
brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/20/2015 | 11:49:38 AM
Re: Look out for Loon
If there is no cell service there, I assume that backhaul is meshed in the balloons and delivered at a much more central point.  Other than that maybe satellite?  If there is a wireless network on the ground, why would you need a baloon to bring service?

 

seven

 
cnwedit
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cnwedit,
User Rank: Light Beer
4/20/2015 | 11:46:22 AM
Re: Look out for Loon
I can see how this makes sense in bringing the Internet to areas where it's too expensive or just impossible to establish another kind of network.  But when they say almost two out of every three people would get access this way - that seems hard to fathom. I'm assuming the telco partners are providing the backhaul networks for all of this?
sarahthomas1011
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sarahthomas1011,
User Rank: Light Beer
4/20/2015 | 11:32:39 AM
Look out for Loon
Loons seems to be the farthest along of all Google's ambitious wireless plans. Operators should be feeling relief as it appears it will let them offer this service, rather than try to go direct to consumer like its rumored mobile service. Sounds like it has come pretty far in its initial trials and pilots, but we'll see how Loon works when thousands of balloons actually get commercially deployed. Will be exciting to watch.
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