GoogleX to Circle the Earth With Internet-Connected Balloons

by  Sharon Gaudin, Computerworld

Google is looking to launch a fleet of high-altitude balloons that will circle the planet, providing Internet connectivity to remote areas — and it plans to do so within a year.

That’s the plan that Astro Teller, head of Google’s secretive “moonshot factory” GoogleX, told an audience at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference in Cambridge today. The effort – known as Project Loon — should prove to be a good way to get wireless Internet access to billions of people who don’t have it today, according to a report in MIT Technology Review.

The project aims to provide wireless Internet access to billions of people living in remote locations by building a ring of balloons around the Earth. The balloons communicate with specially designed antennas on the ground, which in turn connect to ground stations that connect to the local Internet service provider.

In June 2013, Google launched 30 high-altitude balloons in New Zealand, and “in the next year or so, we should have a semi-permanent ring of balloons somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere,” says GoogleX director Astro Teller. He says Google should soon have enough balloons to prove the project is feasible. The balloons are designed to provide wireless Internet access using the same LTE protocol that mobile devices use.

Each balloon will offer data at rates of 22 megabits per second to fixed antennas, and five megabits per second to mobile handsets. Analyst Dan Olds commends Google for wanting to provide Internet access to remote and impoverished users, but questions whether the balloons will offer adequate bandwidth.

“The issue is how many people can you support with a balloon?” he says. Olds says although the bandwidth available should support basic Internet access, video calls and other high-bandwidth activities could overwhelm the service.  Report

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