Last year, Facebook announced that it was working on building a fleet of solar powered flying wing drones that would slowly transverse the globe, firing internet at the people below. No wires? No problem. The idea isn’t that people in Silicon Valley need something cool to look at out the window (in most cases that’s a part of their compensation package anyway). No, it’s the fact that developing nations, mountainous regions and hard-to-reach places suffer from a lack of internet and a lack of infrastructure to deliver it with. Sooner than building a mesh of antiquated copper cabling it makes sense to just hop straight to mobile, as Africans are increasingly doing. And since many of those places are non-cell tower friendly too, mobile from above was the logical choice; the utility of satellite uplink without the crippling expense.
When the story came out, most folks just rolled their eyes: another day, another jetpack out of California. But the guys at Alphabet, or the-artist-everyone-still-calls-Google, thought they could go one better.
In a move the looks a bit like the Google playbook was maybe authored by HG Wells, Alphabet are planning to put suborbital balloons up across the globe to… well, to fire internet at you from the skies, of course. Google wants those mountain pass dwellers, rural heartlanders and developing-nation entrepreneurs too.
The project, named ‘Loon,’ is to be tested next in Indonesia, and is expected to supply the country with 4G-like internet speed (Source: TechWeekEurope.co.uk). Considering that Indonesia currently has some of the slowest internet in the world, that’s quite an upgrade. Why does Indonesia have such slow internet? Because the whole country qualifies as ‘hard to reach’ – there are as many Indonesians as Americans, but the country is spread across more than 18,000 islands. Cable’s not really in the race here.
Google’s helium-filled reflective Loon balloons will float at about 12 miles high, well into the stratosphere, and will have to be replaced every 100 days or so. Each balloon will cover a ground area of about 25 square miles, so there will need to be quite a few of them – but one day, there will be many more. After success in Sri Lanka last year and with agreements with Indonesia’s 3 biggest telecoms companies already signed (Source: Google), Loon project director Mike Cassidy one day hopes to ‘make a continuous string [of balloons] around the world.’ (Source: BBC News.)