Google is launching an innovative initiative to provide connectivity in remote, rural areas using helium-filled balloons. The Internet giant aims to bring fast and affordable wireless internet access to some of the world’s most difficult-to-reach areas.
The program, known as Project Loon, uses special weather balloons which are sent into the stratosphere, where they will travel naturally on winds, hovering at around 20km above the Earth’s surface. By raising or lowering the balloons to an altitude where the wind is blowing in an appropriate direction, it is possible to remotely manipulate their courses.
The balloons form a floating mesh network which users connect to via a dedicated antenna which must be mounted on their building. The signal is transferred between the balloons, and then links back in to the global internet.
Mike Cassidy, the leader of Project Loon, said: “There are many terrestrial challenges to internet connectivity—jungles, archipelagos, mountains. There are also major cost challenges. Right now, for example, in most of the countries in the southern hemisphere, the cost of an internet connection is more than a month’s income.”
“Solving these problems isn’t simply a question of time: it requires looking at the problem of access from new angles. So...our latest moonshot from Google [is] balloon-powered Internet access”, added Cassidy.
The pilot trial for the project begins this month in New Zealand.