A single Project Loon balloon can now float for six months, blanket an area the size of Rhode Island

By Shawn Knight
Mar 12, 2015
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  1. project loon rhode google internet wireless internet loon balloon global internet lte wireless

    Google has provided an update on Project Loon, its forward-thinking venture to blanket underserved parts of the globe with Internet access using an array of airborne balloons. To say that the project is making significant progress would indeed be an understatement.

    During a recent phone interview with Johan Mathe, one of the designers of Loon’s navigation system, Ars Technica learned that a single Loon balloon can now remain afloat for more than six months. During that time, it’s capable of providing 4G LTE wireless service to an area the size of Rhode Island.

    Instead of offering a standalone Internet service, Loon balloons are being designed to gather signals from traditional land-based cellular towers. Balloons can operate in a daisy-chain configuration meaning a signal from a distant tower can jump from balloon to balloon to reach far away regions.

    Mathe also provided a bit of insight into how Project Loon initially started. Partially due to technical limitations, the idea early on was to create a system that would beam signals down to antennas on peoples’ homes. Thanks to the rapid progression of mobile technology and the fact that many living in developing nations use or will use a smartphone as their primary (and perhaps first) computer, beaming signal to mobile devices is now not only possible but preferred.

    In the small-scale beta testing thus far, Google says Loon balloons are able to provide LTE with download speeds of about 10Mbps.

    Permalink to story.

  2. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 1,498   +673

    Certainly for those isolated area's that nothing else can touch, it would be a God send, but in the middle of a major city with plenty of tall buildings upon which to mount the required antenna? For across oceans to track and gather data from flying aircraft it would certainly be great as well. Of course the first question would be what does it cost? Can it be set up so it can be easily recovered and reused? And could the Gorilla Glue gorilla use it?
  3. psycros

    psycros TS Evangelist Posts: 1,295   +663

    The US should be the first place to get these balloons. Google is an American company and made its initial billions off of American consumers..shouldn't we be the first to benefit? The nearest broadband from where I live is 8 miles away and there are communities in America where the dead zones are much larger than that. Sure, I can have giant lighted billboards and a four-lane highway practically in my backyard, but modern, affordable Internet? LOL, I might as well be in the Gobi desert. 3G or satellite - both equally laughable - are the only options for those trapped on the Last Mile. Its well past time that the big ISPs start giving something back instead of constantly demanding more money for less service. Google could make this happen by simply *threatening* to float Loon relays across rural America. The wireless carriers would be falling over themselves to get more towers up and provide realistic pricing on data packages.
    SNGX1275 and rpjkw11 like this.
  4. I absolutely agree! I live in a small town (pop 500) in southern WI. We are 15 miles from a city. Internet here is $40 for 1MB down. It is sufficient but get the whole family on and it is so slow. It would be so nice if one of those balloons were to float here and give at least 5MB down for $40.
    rpjkw11 likes this.
  5. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 6,335   +1,937

    Most likely it'll be trialled over North America first and if it's a success it shouldn't take long for the rest of the world to benefit. I for one am looking forward to it but Google are a business, they're not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, they have to make it pay or scrap it.
  6. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,689   +395

    @psycros - Indeed. At least you can get 3G though, my parents can't get cell reception without going outside and standing in a few specific areas. The only broadband available is satellite, which they have. At 5 down and 1 up, with huge pings and low data caps. Its not like they live in an incredibly remote area, they are 6 miles north of a town that has broadband (well maybe not with new FCC definition) and 15 miles from a very developed tourist area.
  7. MikeAcker

    MikeAcker TS Enthusiast Posts: 30

    Too much risk to jetliners
  8. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,689   +395

    I don't think you know what you are talking about. They are at 12 miles high. That is 63360 feet. Commercial jets fly at 25-45,000 (rough range, average closer to 30,000), so even at the highest they would fly it is still nearly 2 miles below the balloon's elevation.
  9. Nilbud

    Nilbud TS Enthusiast Posts: 32   +10

    An idea which could only have been thought up in Los Angeles.

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