Project Loon to Start Testing Service This Year

February 19, 2016 • Devin Partida


Google’s Project Loon is designed to bring Internet access to rural and remote areas of the world that wouldn’t otherwise have it. It will also be used to fill coverage gaps in areas that aren’t connected to the main grid and to bring people back online in the aftermath of a disaster.

What’s unique about it is that Google will be using special technology – suspended in the Earth’s stratosphere by a balloon – that will deliver mobile connectivity to these areas. Once in place, people can connect to the balloon from their mobile phone or LTE-capable device. The balloons are suspended 12 miles from the ground, and beam down Internet access in multiple directions.

Why is Google doing such a thing?

As the official site claims, “Many of us think of the Internet as a global community. But two-thirds of the world’s population does not yet have Internet access.” So, they’re doing it to provide affordable Internet access to those who are not able to get it normally.

Plus, the more people that are online and browsing the Web, the more money Google stands to make through its services.

It began testing the technology in June 2013, with an experimental pilot program in New Zealand. Since then, it’s also tested balloons in California’s Central Valley and Northeast Brazil. These tests will not only be used to see if the tech works, but also to improve systems as the entire project advances.

What Can Loon Do?

For a while, Google actually struggled to find a balloon design that could meet its needs. It had a difficult time finding something that was both inexpensive and durable, but more importantly, that could also be trusted to travel through the stratosphere.

“We busted a lot of balloons,” said Astro Teller, head of Alphabet’s X unit, which is responsible for Google’s cutting-edge projects. Other moonshot projects by the Alphabet team were eventually abandoned, but Project Loon is still going strong.

Eventually, the team found a design that matched their needs, and the resulting balloon was able to navigate the world a total of 19 times over a period of 187 days. Needless to say, Google has been successful so far.

“So we are going to keep going,” says Teller.

The current balloon design is affordable, can navigate precisely through the Earth’s stratosphere, and includes technology that can offer Internet access up to a 15 megabits-per-second connection. In case you’re not familiar with speeds, 15 megabits is suitable enough to stream HD-quality video.

Imagine people in rural parts of Africa or even the Australian Outback tapping into an Internet connection with a mobile device.

Teller claims “it will change the world in ways we cannot possibly imagine.”

Maybe so, but how does this impact the rest of us that already have Internet access on a regular basis?

Loon Provides Affordable Internet Access to All

You may remember one of the alternate reasons Google created Project Loon is to help fill coverage gaps. This means that wireless dead zones may soon be a thing of the past.

Ever been working on a project somewhere, trying to tap into your email or just trying to send a quick message to someone, and found you had no network access? It happens from time to time, and it can absolutely destroy productivity levels. This is especially true of jobs or careers that require you to constantly be on the move but stay connected at the same time.

Once Project Loon is in full swing, people will be able to connect to Google’s balloons when they are not in normal areas of coverage. We don’t need to tell you why this is important. The Internet and an always-on connection have become an invaluable tool in today’s world.

It’s possible that in the future, both mobile technology and Google’s Loon project will have advanced enough so that devices connect seamlessly to the network. Imagine what kind of boost in productivity that could provide.

If that were to happen, your device would automatically connect to a nearby Project Loon balloon without any prompts from you when the wireless connection drops. You wouldn’t even notice a thing. You could browse indefinitely on your device, no matter where you are or what quality signal you have to the nearest cell tower.

Project Loon will surely improve the world for everyone, not just those without Internet.

When Is It Coming?

Sadly, Project Loon is still very much in an experimental testing phase. The good news is that Alphabet recently announced a partnership with three of Indonesia’s biggest telecom companies – Telkomsel, XL Axiata and Indosat – to conduct a countrywide test, starting sometime this year.

Indonesia will be the fourth country – which includes Brazil, New Zealand and Australia – to see Project Loon access.

When all this testing is finally over and Google is sure Project Loon is a success, it will roll it out all over the world. However, there’s no way to know for sure when that will be exactly. For now, we’ll just have to settle for spotty wireless coverage in certain areas.

Image by Doug Coldwell