Google floats balloons to give the world Internet | News | DW | 15.06.2013
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Google floats balloons to give the world Internet

Google has sent balloons to the edge of space to send the Internet worldwide. The company’s (x) division works on "radical, sci-fi-sounding technology solutions to solve really big world problems."

Google scientists released up to 30 helium-filled test balloons flying 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) above Christchurch in New Zealand Saturday, carrying antennae linked to ground base stations. Though still in the early stages, Project Loon could eventually launch thousands of balloons to provide Internet to remote parts of the world, allowing the more than 4 billion people with no access to get online.

"Project Loon is an experimental technology for balloon-powered Internet access," Google announced. "Balloons, carried by the wind at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes, can beam Internet access to the ground at speeds similar to today's 3G networks or faster," the company reported.

Ground stations would connect to local Internet infrastructures and beam signals to the balloons, which are self-powered by solar panels. The balloons would then communicate with each other, forming a mesh network in the sky. Internet antennae attached to homes by users on the ground would send and receive data signals from the balloons passing overhead.

‘Very early days'

"The idea may sound a bit crazy - and that's part of the reason we're calling it Project Loon - but there's solid science behind it," Google announced, adding: "This is still highly experimental technology and we have a long way to go."

Google would eventually float a ring of balloons - each the length of a small light aircraft when fully inflated - to circle the Earth, ensuring Internet access everywhere. The company did not announce how much it would invest in the project.

"It is very early days," the company reported, "but we think a ring of balloons, flying around the globe on the stratospheric winds, might be a way to provide affordable Internet access to rural, remote, and underserved areas down on earth below, or help after disasters, when existing communication infrastructure is affected."

Google announced that over time it would seek to set up other pilot projects in countries near the same latitude as New Zealand, including Australia and Argentina, ideal for their stratospheric conditions.

Successful start

About 50 people took part in the trial flight and all could link to the Internet thanks to the balloons.

"It's been weird," Charles Nimmo, the first person to get access - about 15 minutes' worth before his balloon floated out of range - told the New Zealand Herald newspaper. "But it's been exciting to be part of something new."

Project leader Mike Cassidy told reporters that the technology could allow countries to avoid the expense of installing fiber-optic cable.

"It's a huge moonshot, a really big goal to go after," he said. "The power of the Internet is probably one of the most transformative technologies of our time."

mkg/slk (AFP, AP)