Bottom line: Loon, the Alphabet subsidiary tasked with bringing Internet access to some of the most remote parts of the world, is shutting down. The project was risky from the get go and ultimately, the team wasn't able to figure out how to make it a commercially viable venture.
Project Loon, as it was originally called, started as a research and development project under Google X back in 2011. With it, Google and parent company Alphabet used high-altitude balloons to create makeshift wireless networks to blanket remote regions with Internet access.
In 2018, the project was spun off as a separate company called Loon LLC.
The issue, as Loon CEO Alistair Westgarth noted, is that “Loon has been chasing the hardest problem of all in connectivity — the last billion users.” Loon tackled a series of “firsts” and solved many problems yet despite finding numerous partners along the way, they still haven’t found a way to get costs down to a level that is sustainable over the long-term.
Astro Teller, head of X, said a small group of the Loon team will be sticking around to ensure the project winds down smoothly and safely. Most of the other employees will be moving on, finding alternative roles at X, Alphabet, Google and elsewhere.
With any luck, Loon's technology can be put to use by other innovators to help further bridge the digital divide around the globe.