When Google announced “Project Loon” in 2013, the joke behind the project was that no one thought a network of flying internet balloons was a feasible idea. Eight years later, Google decided that a network of flying internet balloons was not really a viable idea. Lun announced that he was stopping, citing a lack of “long-term, sustainable business.”
Loon CEO (Loon was eventually turned into an alphabet company) Alastair Westgarth writes:
We talk a lot about connecting to the next billion users, but the reality is that Loon is pursuing the most difficult problem of all in connectivity – last Billions of users: Communities in areas that are too difficult or too remote to reach, or areas where providing services with existing technologies is simply too expensive for ordinary people. Although we found a number of willing partners along the way, we found no way to reduce costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business. The development of radical new technologies is inherently risky, but this does not make it easier to spread this news. Today I sadly share that Lun will be liquidated.
Google also cites economic problems when it shut down Titan Aerospace in 2017, a plan to provide the Internet via a drone.
The name “Loon” comes in part from the fact that the project uses flying balloons as a type of ultra-low low-orbit satellite, but also from how “stupid” the idea sounds to anyone outside the project. Google’s introductory post in the explanation explains the idea of a flying network of Internet balloons and follows, saying: “The idea may sound a little crazy – and that’s part of the reason we call it Project Loon – but there’s solid science behind it. “
It seems that science mostly works. The size of Lun’s sales was that about half of the world is not on the Internet. Offline areas are too remote, without enough redirection to build a traditional Internet infrastructure. So let’s build everything here and fly it there and then everyone can use our flying internet infrastructure in the sky. Loon balloons flew in towers on mobile phones – they could deliver an LTE signal to ordinary smartphones (the cheapest computers we have) without special equipment for the end user. There was also a home version of the Loon with a cute red balloon antenna. Google wanted to integrate Loon balloons into the traditional mobile network and had partnerships with AT&T, Telkom Kenya and Telefonica in Peru.
Each flying tower was a polyethylene helium balloon the size of a tennis court with an altitude control system, solar panels, a satellite air traffic control satellite link, and all the domestic towers. The balloons will fly about 20 km above the Earth – far below the low-orbit satellite – and will form a network network with each other. The network should be wide enough to cover the offline area, and also wide enough to switch to the traditional Internet, bringing the entire network online. Lun had no control of the direction, relying instead on different wind directions at different heights. At the height of the project, Google released 250 balloons a year, and they could stay afloat for 300 days before they had to be rebuilt. I don’t think Google ever posted an uptime metric, but Loon did use that. At one point, Loon provided connectivity to 200,000 people in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria destroyed ground infrastructure. Loon trade service launched in Kenya in 2020
The problem with Loon seems to have been that it was such a unique solution with tons of special equipment, and if you target people on the other side of the low-cost digital division, of course, they can’t afford to pay for all that hardware on their own. myself. In this respect, a project like StarXink on SpaceX seems more suitable for bridging the digital divide. Starlink has a rich, developed world to pay for infrastructure, and then SpaceX can subsidize access for developing countries. Loon would certainly be more convenient, as it was a flying mobile phone tower with a signal that was broadcast directly to your smartphone (Starlink requires a pizza box-sized antenna), but when you say you have no way to get internet everything, the more scalable solution looks better.
Some of Loon’s technologies will continue to operate another An alphabetical internet access project, the Taara project, which aims to deliver the internet via a giant laser beam. Google’s wild experiments never end, do they?