Currently only 32.7% of the world’s population is on the internet, a number which Google drastically wants to increase. Research has shown that for every 10% increase in internet penetration, the GDP increases by 1%. Businesses that are online, grow 2 times faster than those who are not. Google X’s Project Loon is a trial project that uses weather balloons to get more people online. Google X is an experimental research arm of Google that also created Google Glass. Project Loon is currently being trailed around the Christ Church area in New Zealand.
Project Loon is one of several projects that Google is trialing to bring internet connectivity to more people. In America, Google is trialing Google Fiber which gives users in trial cities access to gigabit internet speeds. In South Africa, Google is running a trial in South Africa that uses TV white space to bring internet connectivity to rural schools. Currently, the white spaces trial is currently being trialed with 10 schools around the Cape Town region in South Africa.
Introduction to Project Loon
The Technology behind Project Loon
On the 13th of June 2013, Google X launched several weather balloons that floated up to the stratosphere to provide internet to residents trialling the project. Each balloon has a box attached to it which contains circuit boards, solar panels, radio antennas, GPS and altitude sensors. The box also contains a battery that stores solar power so that it can work during night time.
Project Loon balloons travel around 20 km above the Earth’s surface in the stratosphere. Winds in the stratosphere are generally steady and slow-moving, and each layer of wind varies in direction and magnitude. Project Loon uses software algorithms to determine where its balloons need to go, then moves each one into a layer of wind blowing in the right direction. By moving with the wind, the balloons can be arranged to form one large communications network.
Each balloon can provide connectivity to a ground area about 40 km in diameter at speeds comparable to 3G. For balloon-to-balloon and balloon-to-ground communications, the balloons use antennas equipped with specialized radio frequency technology. Project Loon currently uses ISM bands (specifically 2.4 and 5.8 GHz bands) that are available for anyone to use. The balloons will have to be replaced at regular intervals. When a balloon has reached the end of its life span it separates from the weather balloon and parachutes back to earth. The equipment on board send out a GPS ping so that Google staff can retrieve it. The box containing the equipment is marked “HARMLESS SCIENCE EXPERIMENT” so that it does not cause panic if it lands in residential area.
If the trail is successful it could really change the global internet landscape, Google will be able to provide internet connectivity that is low cost and uses clean solar and wind power. This will be extremely disruptive to global markets and ISP markets. The project will force ISPs to offer cheaper services without data caps, a world which Google dreams about.