Project Loon

Project Loon has just hit its second birthday, or at least, it has been two years since Google officially announced Project Loon, their project that hopes to provide an internet connection to more rural areas by means of balloons equipped with the technology to do so. Since then Google has been pretty sporadic with information, but in a recent interview with Wired, Google X leader Astro Teller has revealed plans to launch the project by next year.

“On Loon’s two-year birthday, I would hope, instead of running experiments, we’ll have a more or less permanent set of balloons,” Teller revealed in the interview. “In one or several countries, you will turn on your phone and talk to the balloons.” That’s a pretty big target, but thankfully all of the tests they’ve been conducting have brought the project closer to reality.

Teller revealed to Wired that they plan to quadruple their current fleet of balloons to around 100 to hopefully stay in the air for 100 days, to which he concluded will be elevated to 300 and even 400 balloons, enough to offer a continual service to wherever Google plans to officially launch the project. Wired also revealed that Google had made some substantial changes to the Internet providing payload attached to the polymer balloons.

When Project Loon first launched, the balloons provided Internet by means of WiFi which required the receiver to have a base station with a specialised antenna. Now, there’s no need for this extra equipment as the balloons now broadcast LTE/4G Internet so the receiver can communicate with the balloons via their mobile phone or other LTE connected devices. This is something which is not only going to benefit Google’s target users, but also Google themselves as they’ll be able to lease the connection to other mobile network providers in order to boost their signals.

As for the connection recent Project Loon payloads are providing as much as 22 MB/sec to a ground antenna and 5 MB/sec to a handset reveal Wired, a dramatic increase in speed compared to the first iterations of the technology which only provided as little as one or two megabits per second, around the same speed as the slowest wired Internet service.

That’s not all that’s made an improvement. According to Wired the latest Project Loon balloons have been staying aloft much longer, with one particular Loon lasting over 100 days, and another circumnavigating the entire globe three times before descending – it also completed one circumnavigation in 22 days, which according to Wired is a world record.

Ultimately Google’s aim with Project Loon is to bring an Internet connection, in some form, to more rural, unconnected areas, and even though Loon has a long way to go to achieve that goal, Google remain optimistic, at least Mike Cassidy, a Google X project director, seems to think so; “We’ve definitely crossed the point where there’s a greater than 50 percent chance that this will happen,” he said to Wired.

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