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Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Internet Balloons

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted May 9, 2014

Google Project Loon Internet Balloon

Balloon-Powered Internet for everyone! That’s what Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) says on its website for the new Project Loon. But what does that even mean? And what the heck does a loon have to do with it?

Maybe it’s because the idea sounds looney on its surface. Google’s idea is to create a network of balloons that would travel to the edge of space in order to transmit a wireless connection to people on every corner of the globe.

That’s an Internet connection for everyone. While we Americans think Wi-Fi is right up there with water as a necessity for life, two-thirds of the world’s population does not have Internet access. Project Loon would link the entire world’s population, irrespective of geography or economy.

To think that one day we could all be getting the Internet from a bunch of balloons flying in the sky seems almost outlandish. Satellite Internet connections are notoriously slow and unreliable, and no airborne network has ever successfully been deployed. Our wireless networks are firmly rooted in ground-based towers.

It is Google, though, so we can’t just laugh it off. After this week, the company officially has a network to run on. After scratching a plan to purchase spectrum for its balloon-based system, it has instead decided to lease the balloons to telecommunications companies in various countries.

For the past six months, Google has been going back and forth trying to make a deal to buy spectrum, but it never panned out. Wireless spectrum is scarce and extremely expensive everywhere there is mobile phone service. Verizon Wireless, for example, spent $3.6 billion in 2011 to acquire just 122 spectrum licenses in the U.S.

Earlier in 2014, Ottawa auctioned off its 700 MHz block of spectrum for more than $7 billion.

Even Google doesn’t have enough money to buy spectrum that covers the entire world, so it is doing the next best thing: leasing out its balloons to different countries as they pass overhead.

The Loon in theory is like any other network of cell towers, only it’s made up of balloons floating high up in the sky, and it can deliver service to areas where digging infrastructure would be too costly.

The project has yet to launch, but finding a network was a critical step in project development.


We all know Google. The name pretty much speaks for itself. It has been at the forefront of many technological breakthroughs and can be considered one of the most innovative and cutting edge tech companies out there today.

For that simple fact, we can’t ignore experiments like this. Not only could Google be on the brink of busting the worldwide Internet market wide open with this project, but Google seems to have its hand in just about every other cookie jar, as well.

It’s made a business out of buying other businesses – every other day making headlines for snatching up this company or that company – in 2014 alone; it’s acquired control of Impermium Corp, Nest Labs Inc.,, Green Throttle Games, Titan Aerospace, Rangespan, Adometry Inc. and Appetas Inc.
We’re not even halfway through the year yet.

The Technology

Google’s Project Loon started in June of 2013 with an experimental deployment in New Zealand, where a small group of Loons (balloons) were tested. The results have led to groundbreaking research and future flight tests in California’s Central Valley.

If you think about it, it really is a logical idea. The reason even Americans get stuck with such bad service sometimes is because laying cable and forming networks is very expensive; too expensive to put everywhere.

What the Project Loon balloons do is float up into the stratosphere (about 20 kilometers up), way above the clouds, all the airplanes, but where there are many layers of wind. These winds would propel the balloons to go where they are needed by rising and descending into a desired direction of travel. People would then use a special Internet antenna attached to a building where the signal bounces from the antenna to the balloon, and back down to Earth.

These balloons are 15 meters in diameter and you would need a telescope to see them in action. The balloons would communicate much like ground level cell towers do, bouncing transmissions off each other and building a complete network in the sky.

Sky high

The goal here is for Google to bring 3G-like speed to everyone on Earth. Signals would be transmitted from ground stations to the balloons (loons) and back down to people all over the world.

Google is still testing the project, so just how close we are to actually seeing something like this put into action is still hard to say.