The Loon bubble has burst – Alphabet shuts down the Internet balloon company

When Google announced “Project Loon” in 2013, there was a joke behind the project that no one thought a network of flying internet balloons was a viable idea. Eight years later, Google decided that a web of flying internet balloons was actually not a possible idea. Advertised by color It is closed, Noting that there is no “long-term sustainable business.”

CEO of Loon (Loon eventually converted into Alphabet) writes Alastair Westgarth:

We talk a lot about delivery next one 1 billion users, but the truth is Loon has been chasing the toughest connection issue ever – the the last One billion users: Communities located in hard-to-reach or extremely remote areas, or areas where providing service with current technologies is too expensive for the average person. While we found a number of willing partners along the way, we did not find a way to cut costs enough to build a long-term sustainable business. The development of a radical new technology is inherently risky, but that does not make spreading this news easier. Today, I am sad to share that Loon is going to disappear.

Google also cited its economic problems Titan Aerospace shutdown In 2017, a plan to deliver the Internet via drones.

The name “Loon” came partly from the fact that the project uses flying balloons as a kind of ultra-low orbit satellite, but also from the way the “crazy” idea seemed to everyone outside the project. Google Introductory blog post He explained the idea of ​​a flying network of Internet balloons and followed it by saying, “The idea might sound a little crazy – that’s part of why we called it Project Loon – but there is a strong science behind it.”

Science seems to succeed mostly. The idea for Loon’s sales was that half of the world wasn’t online. The disconnected areas are very remote, without enough connections to build a traditional Internet infrastructure. So let’s build everything here and fly it there, and then everyone can use the internet infrastructure in the sky. Loon balloons have been flying in cell phone towers – it can deliver an LTE signal all the way to regular smartphones (the cheapest computers we have) without special end-user equipment. There was also a home version of the Loon with a cute red balloon antenna. Google wanted to integrate the Loon Balloons into the traditional cell phone network and has partnerships with AT&T, Telkom Kenya and Telefonica in Peru.

Each flying tower was a tennis court-sized polyethylene helium balloon with an altitude control system, solar panels, a lunar link to control Google’s air traffic and all parts of the cell tower. The airships will fly 20 kilometers above the Earth – much less than the low-orbit satellite – and form a lattice between them. The mesh network must be wide enough to cover the offline area and also wide enough to transmit to the traditional internet, making the entire network online. The Loon had no control over the direction, relying instead on different wind directions at different altitudes. At the project’s peak, Google was releasing 250 balloons a year, and they could remain floating for 300 days before needing to be recovered. I don’t think Google published the uptime metric at all, but Loon had its uses. At one point, Loon handed over the connection to 200,000 people In Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria destroyed the ground infrastructure. Loon commercial service launched in Kenya in 2020.

The problem with Loon seemed to be that it was a unique solution with a lot of proprietary equipment, and if you were targeting people on the other side of the digital divide with little buying power, of course they couldn’t afford to pay for all of those devices themselves. In this regard, a project like Starlink from SpaceX It seems more appropriate to bridge the digital divide. Starlink has the rich and developed countries pay for the infrastructure, and then SpaceX can support the arrival of the developing countries. Loon was certainly more convenient since it was a flying cell phone tower with a signal broadcast directly to your smartphone (Starlink requires an antenna the size of a pizza box) but when you talk about no way to access the internet at all, a more scalable solution looks better.

Some of Loon’s techniques will live in else The Alphabet Project for Internet Access, the Taara Project, which aims to deliver the Internet via A giant laser beam. Google’s wild experiences are never ending, right?

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