In an experiment aimed at supplying reliable Internet access to the world’s most remote regions, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has launched Project Loon, which aims to provide Internet access through a network of balloons.
The program, which uses solar-powered, high-altitude balloons, took off this month from New Zealand’s South Island. The balloons travel via the wind at an altitude of 12.5 miles above the ground — about twice as high as airplanes.
Project Loon uses algorithms to determine where balloons need to be located and then places them into winds that push them towards their destination. The balloons form networks of hotspots in the air delivering Internet access at speeds comparable to 3G over open radio frequency bands. From below, special Internet antennas are attached to buildings allowing access to the balloon network.
Google deployed 30 balloons in New Zealand, which will provide Internet to a small group of testers. The test run will be used to determine the next phase of Project Loon and to help refine the technology for the future.
In a post on their official blog, Google explained, “The Internet is one of the most transformative technologies of our lifetimes. But for 2 out of every 3 people on earth, a fast, affordable Internet connection is still out of reach. And this is far from being a solved problem. There are many terrestrial challenges to Internet connectivity—jungles, archipelagos, mountains. There are also major cost challenges.” They continued, “in most of the countries in the southern hemisphere, the cost of an Internet connection is more than a month’s income. Solving these problems isn’t simply a question of time: it requires looking at the problem of access from new angles.”
The experimental balloon network has the potential to be one of the most important scientific breakthroughs if it can successfully provide Internet to those unable to receive it through conventional methods. “The idea may sound a bit crazy—and that’s part of the reason we’re calling it Project Loon—but there’s solid science behind it,” Google explained.
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