To provide internet access in remote areas, jungles and mountains where it is not possible to lay fiber cables, Google is experimenting with balloon-powered Internet access.
According to Google, it might actually be possible to build a ring of balloons, flying around the globe on the stratospheric winds, that provides Internet access to the earth below. It’s very early days, but Google has built a system that uses balloons, carried by the wind at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes, to beam Internet access to the ground at speeds similar to today’s 3G networks or faster. As a result, Google hope balloons could become an option for connecting rural, remote, and underserved areas, and for helping with communications after natural disasters. The idea may sound a bit crazy—and that’s part of the reason, Google is calling it Project Loon—but there’s solid science behind it.
Balloons, with all their effortless elegance, present some challenges. Many projects have looked at high-altitude platforms to provide Internet access to fixed areas on the ground, but trying to stay in one place like this requires a system with major cost and complexity. So the idea Google pursued was based on freeing the balloons and letting them sail freely on the winds.
Google has to figure out how to control their path through the sky. They have now found a way to do that, using just wind and solar power, they can move the balloons up or down to catch the winds they want them to travel in. That solution leads to a new problem: how to manage a fleet of balloons sailing around the world so that each balloon is in the area you want it right when you need it. Google is solving this with some complex algorithms and lots of computing power.
Google has started a pilot program in a frozen field in the heart of New Zealand’s South Island with 50 testers trying to connect to their balloons. This is the first time Google has launched this many balloons (30 this week, in fact) and tried to connect to this many receivers on the ground, which will help them to learn and improve their technology and balloon design.
Similar experiments will be conducted by Google in other countries at the same latitude as New Zealand, in due course of time. This is still highly experimental technology, but the initiative taken by Google will bring revolution in internet access technology, and will dramatically increase Internet usage in places such as Africa and Southeast Asia.