Loon, a high-altitude balloon network that creates internet access, finally launches commercially. Owned by Alphabet, Google’s parent company, the project commenced its flight of 4G-enabled internet balloons in Kenya. 

The idea came from Space Data Corp, a company using balloons to provide connectivity to oil companies in low-network areas of the southern United States. Although Google desired to partner with the company, it began its own development in 2011. The project went public in 2014.

Ever since then, testing and development of the project began at a rapid speed. Pilot experiments are underway in various countries including Sri Lanka, Brazil, New Zealand, and the United States. More than a decade in the making, Loon finally enters the commercial market. 

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Non-commercially, the tech was earlier used by US telecom operators during the 2017 hurricane in Puerto Rico. More than 250,000 were able to connect using the technology. 

 

Extending connectivity during emergency

Initially a research project by Google, it was designed to make internet accessible in areas with limited or zero access. The design would also favor authorities to provide access to the population when natural disasters disturb land-based connectivity. 

The system not only connects remote areas, but increasingly improves their connectivity during natural disasters. 

 

The Current Stance

“Kenya is the first country… to have base stations high up in the sky. Now we will be able to cover the whole country in a brief span of time,” proudly said the country’s Information Minister Joe Mucheru, post-launch. 

Kenya is the official origin of mass-scale deployments of this highly hopeful project. 

“Now you will be able to sell your products on the internet. I want to see online sales of honey,” said an excited Kenyatta. Kenya has been suffering from low Internet bandwidth for decades. Locals had to travel 40 miles to the nearest town if they needed internet connectivity. This has hurt the overall business of individuals as well as the entire economy. Loon definitely brings smiles to the faces of SMBs who can now sell/offer their products/services online. 

Alphabet has partnered with TelKom, Kenya’s local telecommunication operator to beam its 4G internet 

 

How the balloons work

Loon strategically deploys helium-based polythene balloons into the stratosphere, between 18 Km to 25 Km range. This layer is famous for low turbulence and minimal wind speed variations, two key requirements of the project. 

The strategic positioning takes care of the first stage of the project, i.e., placement. 

Each balloon carries 22lb payload of equipment, including a networking LTE, radio hot-spot, and solar panel with batteries. The balloons can last for as long as 6 months, before which they can be parachuted back to Earth for repairs.

Once installation completes, service providers will project signals to the balloons using a special antenna. The nearest ballon will capture the signal. Next, it will transfer from balloon to balloon and ground-based stations connected to ISP, and finally the global internet. 

 

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