So Google are nearly ready to bring us Project Loon. What do you mean you’ve never heard of it?
Google announced in 2013 that they had an impressive plan to surround the Earth with large balloons which would provide internet access. This was a project designed to bring high speed internet access to places with little or no infrastructure for net access. At the time it was viewed as a fanciful notion that would never get off the ground (pun intended).
Fast forward to the present day, and now they are announcing that the trials have gone well, and they expect to have a global network in place within months. This will allow them to bring on board paying customers, by which it looks like they mean multi-nationals and Government customers.
The concept behind Loon is not really new technology. The balloons themselves are very similar to those developed in the 1950’s by the US Military and NOAA for weather tracking (although I’m sure they had some other uses during the cold war) and are huge structures made from Mylar and filled with Helium. To date, the longest Google has had a balloon stay up is 187 days, but previously the military claim to have had one stay up for 744 days.
They will circle the earth at a height of approximately 20Km and rather than being stationary they will be allowed to float where the weather takes them. They will be tracked by GPS, allowing them to sync with the rest of the balloons in the network. Each balloon will carry three radios. One each for data upload and download, and a backup should one of those fail.
The benefit for places with a good infrastructure will be negligible. The types of place which should really benefit are places like Indonesia, where a chain of rugged islands has meant building the usual cable based network is extremely difficult and expensive. Google hope that Loon will be a simpler, cheaper option for Governments in areas like this to provide a network which is available to all.
Such areas have missed out on opportunities the rest of us take for granted. Most readers probably won’t remember a world pre-internet, but it wasn’t so long ago that we didn’t have Google, or Amazon or news sites to make life a little easier. Anyone who lived through that era will tell you of the amazing changes that have taken place in the past 15 years or so. The world has suddenly become a much smaller place, with business able to be conducted in real time when the parties are thousands of miles apart. Those parts of the world who haven’t had the same opportunity will explode into life when they finally get the access they need, and the tapestry of life will become just a little richer.