Project Loon beams signal to offline regions via balloons suspended in stratosphere
Google’s internet-beaming balloons are ready to take off on the next phase of the mission to deliver online access in regions where most people live offline.
The balloons, which transmit high-speed internet signals, will now begin hovering in the stratosphere above Indonesia in an expansion of the two-year-old project.
About 250 million people live in the country composed of about 17,000 islands, although only 42 million have internet access, according to estimates from the CIA.
Google’s Project Loon programme aims to bring connectivity to offline regions using clusters of the balloons, which float about 60,000ft above the Earth.
The project recently became part of the technology lab, Google X, run by Google’s parent company Alphabet.
Alphabet says Projects Loon is striving to get about 100 million currently unconnected people tapped into the vast reservoir of knowledge, entertainment and conveniences available online.
Project Loon is still testing its technology, so there is still no estimate when it will start selling the internet service to households and businesses within range of the balloons.
The internet access will be sold through wireless service providers in Indonesia, where the 319 million mobile phones outnumber people.
Most of those phones do not connect to the internet because users cannot afford data plans, or more frequently, live in remote areas the equipment for high-speed internet access cannot be installed.
Project Loon ultimately aims to deploy hundreds of balloons, which are invisible to the naked eye.
For the signal to work, engineers must choreograph the movement of the balloons and ensure that as one drifts out of a target range, another floats in to fill the gap.
The Indonesian expansion follows extensive testing in New Zealand, Australia and remote areas in California and Brazil. Indonesia’s size and geographic sprawl makes it Project Loon’s biggest challenge.
Eventually, Project Loon envisions sending its balloons to other unconnected regions in the world, including small villages in Africa and the Californian woods in the US.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin sees Project Loon eventually creating millions of jobs around the world to raise the standard of living for now-impoverished people.
“The emotional distance of the world is shrinking, thanks to the communications we enjoy today,” said Mr Brin.