Wage Bubble Bursts – Alphabet Shuts Down Internet Balloon Company | GeekComparison

When Google announced “Project Loon” in 2013, a running joke behind the project was that no one thought a network of flying internet balloons was a viable idea. Eight years later, Google has decided that a network of flying internet balloons is indeed not a viable idea. Loon announced it would join, citing the lack of a “long-term sustainable business”.

Loon CEO (Loon eventually turned into an Alphabet company) Alastair Westgarth writes:

We talk a lot about connecting the The next billion users, but the reality is that Loon is chasing the biggest problem in connectivity: the last billion users: the communities in areas that are too difficult or too remote to reach, or the areas where providing services with existing technologies is simply too expensive for ordinary people. While we’ve found some willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get costs low enough to build a long-term sustainable business. Developing radically new technology is inherently risky, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deliver this news. Today I regret to announce that Loon will be phasing out.

Google also cited economic problems when it closed Titan Aerospace in 2017, a plan to deliver internet via drones.

The name “Loon” came partly from the fact that the project uses flying balloons as a sort of ultra-low orbit satellite, but also from how “crazy” the idea sounded to everyone outside the project. Google’s introductory blog post explained and followed the idea of ​​a flying network of internet balloons by saying, “The idea may sound a little crazy – and that’s part of why we call it Project Loon – but there’s solid science behind it.”

Science seemed to work most of the time. Loon’s sales pitch was that about half of the world was not on the Internet. The offline areas are too remote, without enough backhaul to build a traditional internet infrastructure. So let’s build everything here and fly there, and then anyone can use our flying internet infrastructure in the sky. The Loon balloons flew into cell phone towers – they could deliver an LTE signal to regular smartphones (the cheapest computers we have) without any special end-user equipment. There was also a home version of Loon with a cute red balloon antenna. Google wanted to integrate Loon balloons into the traditional mobile phone network and had partnerships with AT&T, Telkom Kenya and Telefonica in Peru.

Each flying tower was a tennis court-sized polyethylene helium balloon with an altitude control system, solar panels, a satellite uplink for Google air traffic control, and all of the cell tower parts. The balloons would fly about 20 km above Earth — much lower than a low-Earth satellite — and form a mesh network among themselves. The mesh network should be wide enough to cover the offline area and also wide enough to beam to the traditional internet, bringing the entire network online. Loon had no directional control, but relied on different wind directions at different altitudes. At the height of the project, Google launched 250 balloons a year and they were able to float for 300 days before needing to be recovered. I don’t think Google ever published an uptime stat, but Loon had its usefulness. At one point, Loon provided connectivity to 200,000 people in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria knocked out land infrastructure. A commercial Loon service launched in Kenya in 2020.

It sounds like the problem with Loon was that it was such a unique solution with tons of special equipment, and if you target people on the other side of the digital divide with little purchasing power, they obviously can’t afford to pay. for all that hardware alone. In this regard, a project like SpaceX’s Starlink seems better suited to bridging the digital divide. Starlink makes the rich, developed world pay for the infrastructure, and then SpaceX could subsidize access for developing countries. Loon would certainly have been more convenient as it was a flying cell tower with a signal beaming directly to your smartphone (Starlink requires a pizza box-sized antenna), but speaking of the fact that you have no way of getting the internet all in all, the more scalable solution seems better.

Some of Loon’s technology will live on in another Alphabet Internet Access Project, Project Taara, which aims to deliver the Internet through a giant laser beam. Google’s wild experiments never end, right?

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