It’s been roughly a year since Google set out on an ambitious goal to connect rural and underserved areas with internet access using high-altitude balloons. And while Project Loon recently suffered a minor hiccup, in which one of the balloons crashed in a relatively remote area and struck a power line, Google has been making steady improvements as it aims for a wider rollout next year.
According to a report from Wired, since announcing the project on June 15 last year, balloons are delivering 10x more bandwidth, 10x steer-ability, and are staying up 10x as long. To put that in actual numbers, with the latest LTE-equipped units Google has achieved speeds of up to 22 MB/s to a ground antenna and 5 MB/s to a handset while keeping balloons aloft over 100 days.
Google also improved Loon flight times by increasing the vertical range of the balloons so they can catch more favorable winds and avoid poor weather conditions -- Google’s software recalculates path as often as once a minute.
Trials are currently underway in Brazil and New Zealand in partnership with local telcos, which are apparently seeing this as an opportunity to jointly reach underserved areas rather than as a threat to their business.
There are still plenty of potential obstacles ahead but the team behind Loon is optimistic about their progress. “On Loon’s two-year birthday, I would hope, instead of running experiments, we’ll have a more or less permanent set of balloons. In one or several countries, you will turn on your phone and talk to the balloons,” ays Astro Teller, head of the Google X division.
Last April, Google bought Titan Aerospace, a startup that makes high-altitude, solar powered drones that offer an alternative approach to wireless Internet.