Google launches balloons to provide internet access in rural areas

Google launch 'Project Loon'.
Google launch 'Project Loon'. Photo: APTN

Google has launched giant balloons into the stratosphere in a trial attempt to provide internet access to the entire planet.

The release of the large balloons is the culmination of 18-months work on what Google has dubbed 'Project Loon.'

The delicate helium-filled inflatables are designed to rise up in to the stratosphere and beam the Internet down to earth as they sail past on the wind.

Mapping the balloons progress from Canterbury in New Zealand.
Mapping the balloons progress from Canterbury in New Zealand. Credit: Google

Still in their experimental stage, the balloons were launched 20 kilometres (12 miles) up in order to bridge the gaping digital divide between the world's 4.8 billion people still without internet access.

If successful, the technology might allow countries to leapfrog the expense of laying fibre cable, dramatically increasing Internet usage in places such as Africa and Southeast Asia.

For someone on the ground to use the Loon service, they need a small antenna about the size of a softball on the side of their house, and they just plug their computer into that antenna, and they get internet from the sky

– Project leader Mike Cassidy
  • The balloons fly freely getting their power from card table-sized solar panels hanging below, gathering enough charge in four hours to power them for a day.
  • Far below, ground stations with internet capabilities about 100 kilometres (60 miles) apart bounce signals up to the balloons.
  • The signals could than bounce across from one balloon to the next, along a backbone of up to five balloons.
  • Each balloon would provide internet service for an area twice the size of New York City, about 1,250 square kilometres (780 square miles).

There are possible problems, including a requirement that anyone using Google Balloon internet would need a special receiver and Google has not yet confirmed costs of the system.