Project Loon to Bring 4G-like Internet to the Developing World in 2016

November 5, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

A project loon research balloon
Photo credit: iLighter/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The world’s about to get a whole lot more connected.

Google’s Project Loon, an ambitious project to provide the developing world with access to the Internet, has come a long way since the company announced the idea in 2013. Floating through the stratosphere 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) above ground, 300 helium balloons will ring the planet to form a high-tech communication network. Plus, the company announced this week that it aims to provide a continual data service to those living underneath the Internet balloons, reports ScienceAlert.

“In the early days, the balloons would last five or seven or 10 days. Now we have had balloons that have lasted as long as 187 days,” Mike Cassidy, vice-president of Project Loon, told the BBC. “We’ve also improved the launch process. It used to take 14 people an hour or two to launch a balloon. Now with an automated crane we can launch a balloon every 15 minutes with two or three people.”

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The project has also advanced from its original plan to provide 3G cellular service to now upgrading to near-4G mobile speeds. Plus, the balloons are an environmentally-friendly way of spreading internet access since they’re fitted with solar panels which produce 100 Watts of power in the sun.

Back in April, Google also acquired a company called Titan Aerospace, an innovative company that uses high-altitude drone technologies for a number of tasks like monitoring environmental damage from oil spills and deforestation. According to TechCrunch, Titan drones reportedly fly up to 65,000 feet high for up to three years, so in the wake of Google’s own balloon project, partnering with people who know about the risks and opportunities associated with unmanned aerial objects will help Google ensure its own project unfolds smoothly and safely.

Cassidy told the BBC that they hope to build the first continuous string of 300 balloons around the world in 2016, just above the Southern Hemisphere. If all goes according to plan, Google will be able to move forward with providing internet service to its first beta commercial customers: Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

Just last week (October 28), Google announced that three Indonesian network providers signed agreements to begin testing the balloon-powered Internet next year when it’s ready. Amazingly, the project could bring internet to over 100,000 Indonesians who are currently living without it.

There are about 4.3 billion people in the world who are living without internet access, and Google’s Project Loon could expand educational and economic opportunities in the developing world drastically. It’s a complex project, but Google’s talented engineers have proven time and time again that technological breakthroughs are kind of their thing.

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