The balloon’s a Loon – Google project prepares for testing

Posted on November 3, 2015

 

Google has announced that its ambitious plan to create internet availability through a network of balloons will be ready for testing over the coming months.

Project Loon involves launching the craft to the very edge of the space in an effort to provide network coverage for people in remote areas, and to provide connections for people following natural disasters. The balloons are directed to where they are needed by adjusting their altitude; different layers of wind run in different directions, and this natural phenomenon can be used for navigation by the craft. As one balloon drifts out of coverage range, another should take its place.

During 2016, the three biggest mobile phone network operators in Indonesia – Telkomsel, Indosat and XL Axiata – will begin testing the network. Over the coming years, it is hoped that Loon will give high-speed LTE connections to over 100 million people in the country.

Google chose Indonesia partly due to its geography; as an archipelago consisting of more than 17,000 islands, mobile phone towers and fibre optic cables are impractical, meaning that roughly one-third of the population is connected to the internet.

Each balloon packs a flight computer and GPS, three radio transceivers and solar panels. Tests have indicated that data transfers of around 10Mbit/sec are achievable; for comparison, UK 4G speeds on the ground reach around 15Mbit/sec.

Speaking to the BBC, VP of Project Loon, Mike Cassidy, said:

“In the early days, the balloons would last five, seven or ten days. Now we have balloons that have lasted as long as 187 days.

We’ve also improved the launch process. It used to take fourteen people an hour to launch a balloon, now with an automated crane we can launch a balloon every fifteen minutes with two or three people.”

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