Google launched Project Loon five years ago in its quest to deliver Internet access to underserved areas of the globe. Now a standalone subsidiary of Alphabet, Loon announced a major breakthrough this week. They managed to transmit data over 1000 kilometers (620 miles).

That’s ten times farther than Loon’s previous best, although it’s worth noting that this was not a simple point-to-point link between two balloons. Covering that substantial distance required a network of seven working together. The longest leg of the journey spanned an impressive 600 kilometers, which is slightly greater than the distance between New York City and Toronto.

Hitting that mark requires incredibly accurate directional antennae. Head of engineering Salvatore Candido says Loon’s antenna is as accurate as a human “throwing a ball 100 meters and landing it in a wastebasket.”

The thousand-kilometer transmission distance is exciting on its own, but Loon is amped up for another reason, too. Data can now be transmitted to users on the ground from any balloon along the way.

This gives Loon a serious advantage over a similar terrestrial system. The coverage area is 20 to 30 times larger, according to Candido.

Loon has achieved other noteworthy successes on the road to commercialization. Its balloons have stayed aloft for as long as 200 days. They managed to stay within Peruvian airspace for 98 days. Most recently, Loon balloons helped bring Internet service to Puerto Rico after the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria.

The company’s first deployment in Africa is scheduled for next year. In mid-July, Loon announced a partnership with Telkom Kenya that will see its balloons take to the skies over the country’s central region. The area’s mountainous terrain has made delivering service to the suburban and rural population quite difficult. Topographical issues tend to become less of a concern when your infrastructure is hovering at 60,000 feet, naturally.



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13 replies on “Google’s Loon Balloons Just Beamed Data Over 1000 Kilometers”

  1. This is such a steampunk solution to internet shortages. This is so cool.

    1. Or anyone not served in the US because it is not profitable enough for the big ISPs

  2. More pollution. Visual pollution, gas for the balloons, radio wave pollution. Stop with this nonsense.This is worse than google glasses. If you care about the environment and health, then wired it is.

    1. These are likely high enough that they’re invisible from the ground, and until broadcast TV and mobile phone towers turn off, this is a negligible amount of radio waves. I’d prefer they not use nonrenewable helium (preferring either hydrogen or a solar panel running a heater for hot air), but such is life.

    2. Never heard of visual pollution, but I am wondering how this furthers Google’s business plans. Google fiber showed everyone that adding fibre connections to houses is not that expensive, and that city, state and federal governments are completely owned by the telcos. I see that as a good long term investment, at getting people to vote for politicians who promise to fix this problem.

  3. I wonder if there’s a path to make this profitable at all or is Alphabet/Google really willing to keep throwing money at this even if it’s a money sink. I remember reading an article maybe last year where one of the heads of the project said they’ll supposedly make Loon profitable in the future but didn’t give any details (ie. there is no business model currently). Alphabet/Google is not a charity organization.

    1. I don’t want to insult your intelligence, but are you kidding me? The second you get internet access Google is profiting. Unless of course you stick to ad free site, use Bing and don’t use YouTube.

      1. Do you know how much it costs to develop, deploy and maintain these? It doesn’t seem like you’re familiar with the logistics. This is not profitable.

        1. You obviously don’t want to consider where Google’s profits come from. Think….ads? You can’t get ads unless you are? Online. The balloons? Get everyone online. How much is a Google account worth? How much are all those users data worth? Google needs everyone online and with unlimited data in a perfect world. YouTube is a data hog so obviously balloon help to alleviate that concern.

    2. From what I’ve been hearing and reading, Alphabet does not have a profitable business model for Loon and it doesn’t seem like they’ll be figuring one out anytime soon.

      I agree, Alphabet is not a charity organization. Everything they do is for profit. Like you, I’m also wondering how long they plan on throwing money away on this. I’m surprised it’s lasting this long. From the folks I know at/were at Google, things get killed off pretty quickly if they don’t have a solid path to profit and Loon currently doesn’t have a feasible path to profitability.

  4. Helping bring ads to everyone. The more we can track you, the better we can be. <– Google motto. Geez, internet and free data for everyone means copious YouTube and ad revenue for Google. All hail the balloon. Just because golly geez, we want to give the world the internet because we love free for all. Surely to god readers here aren't so stupid as to see this as being generous. It's called a vested interest and people seemingly might have to Google that word to see what it means. The balloon is no different than what Android was/is to Google. It's a way in.

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