Today, Google is much more than that. For starters, its parent company is called Alphabet. And it provides online services to millions of people, businesses and government agencies. Online advertising, cloud computing, software, mobile and online applications, e-commerce, electronic devices… It’s even an internet service provider. But not all Google projects ended well. A recent example is Stadia. Project Loon is another. An internet service provider via helium balloons.
In the United States, Google is an Internet service and IPTV provider named Google Fiber. She has been doing this since 2010 and has clients in the following countries the cities such as Atlanta, Nashville, San Antonio, Kansas City or Orange County, California. And indirectly in major cities such as Chicago, Denver, Miami, Seattle, San Francisco or San Diego. It’s not yet on par with AT&T, Verizon or Xfinity in terms of coverage or number of customers, but it’s gradually improving. A smart strategy considering that almost all areas of Google’s business are Internet-based.
So it’s no coincidence that in 2011 Google decided to launch Project Loon. It was at X, or Google X, the think tank from which Google’s future success would emerge. The more people who have access to the Internet, the more potential customers you have. It will then become an independent company. And in 2021, her time has come and she gives up on her attempt to bring the Internet with helium balloons.
Internet for everyone in helium balloons
In January 2022, the world population was approximately 7.91 billion people. Among them, 4.95 billion are Internet users. It means 62.5% of the total. There are countries where internet penetration is 100%, such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Liechtenstein. If we consider the most important countries, for one reason or another, China has 54% of Internet users, the United States 87%, Russia 81%, Spain 86%, Mexico 80%, Argentina 74% and Chile 82%.
In summary. There is still a long way to go until we reach 100% of the world’s population. And even more if we consider that there are countries where optical fiber is widely distributed. Others are dominated by the use of mobile technologies such as 4G and 5G and finally there are areas of the planet that still depend on slow and poor quality connections. Hence Google’s effort to provide a cost-effective and convenient solution to bring internet to remote and rural areas at acceptable speeds.
Later projects, such as Starlink, are based on the deployment of specially designed satellites to provide Internet coverage and access. And based on the latest information we have about Elon Musk’s project, it seems to be going pretty well. But projects like Starlink, which has more than 12,000 satellites orbiting the Earth, require huge investments.
Project Loon’s first flight: New Zealand
Project Loon (2011), which later became a company called Loon LLC (2018), wanted to find a more economically viable alternative. They chose balloons inflated with helium. They would be placed at altitudes between 18 and 25 kilometers and together they would create a wireless network that allows wireless connections at speeds similar to those of 3G networks. It’s at the beginning.
The first distribution of Loon was two years after its creation as a project under the X or Google X incubator or think tank. In the summer of 2013, Google would deploy the first network of helium-inflated balloons. Large helium balloons. About 30 in total. The chosen location was Christchurch, New Zealand. The balloons were powered by solar panels and were visible to the naked eye. Once settled, they form a network that feeds about fifty people, the first participants in the project as test customers.
According to various media reports at the time, Project Loon officials planned to deploy a total of 300 to 400 balloons. This can seem expensive in terms of deployment and maintenance. But we are talking about remote areas where laying fiber optics was really expensive. And only a few people benefit. If everything goes well, the Loon project will continue its work in other countries such as Australia, South Africa or Argentina.
The Loon Legacy Project
Nearly nine years after launching the first Project Loon balloons in early 2021, Project Loon officials have announced the creation of an early warning system. the end of the project. On his official blog, hosted at Site X, the statement examines Loon’s work in New Zealand, then Puerto Rico, Peru and Kenya. He also tried his luck in Brazil and Sri Lanka. In the latter case, in March 2016 it became the second country in the world to have coverage via LTE, a technology that offers speeds higher than 4G without reaching the current 5G.
And on a technical level, networks of balloons have been perfected by connecting them to each other using a laser system. In a more recent article from the same blog, dated September 2021, the team that worked on Loon recalls that the project failed, but that, along the way, it served to learn a lot about the stratosphere. In this sense, the data obtained with the sensors incorporated in the balloons are made public for anyone who wants to consult them. Scientists and researchers, mainly. Specifically, data obtained from more than 2,100 flights and covering the period between August 2011 and May 2021.
On the other hand, anyone can consult information about the project at the following address The Diving Library a document of more than 400 pages that examines, at a technical level, everything that went into the project: the flight system, the communications, the software used and everything that was learned along the way.
A new hope on the horizon
The million dollar question is: what went wrong? The answer is simple. Project Loon had a laudable purpose. But doing good sometimes turns out bad, because it doesn’t pay off financially. The idea was to bring the Internet to areas where installing fiber optics or cell antennas was too expensive. Expensive for areas where a small number of people live. In other words, the investment would never pay off. Indeed, one of the first beneficiaries of the Loon project, a farmer from New Zealand, paid astronomical sums for satellite Internet.
So while Loon continued his research and reduced the costs of deploying his balloons and other ground infrastructure, an expense remained prohibitive for the people who could benefit from it. Google could have financed the project with millions of profits, but without a stable economic plug, it decided to abandon the idea. On the other hand, in some areas where it had deployed its balloons, 3G and 4G networks had already been installed, making Google’s aerial deployment unnecessary.
But all is not lost. If the closure of Loon happened at the beginning of 2021, in September 2022, some media reported the return of this project under a different name: Aalyria. Tech startup Aalyria was founded in early 2022 by former Google employees. But even though the two projects are related, they actually have little to do with each other. For starters, there are no balloons. And Google is not involved in the project. However, the goal is to provide high-speed Internet using the software that was used in the Loon project to turn it into a cloud-based system that manages the networks that connect satellites, planes and ships.
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