Project Loon: Take Off or Crash Landing?

Science, Technology 2013-06-20

When someone mentions ‘wireless internet’ to you what do you think of? Do giant balloons come to mind?


Well maybe they soon will. Google has just set up Project Loon, a new way of delivering wireless internet connection to remote areas of the world. Each balloon, floating 12 miles above Earth, consists of a set up of solar panels and wireless antennas that can provide internet access to an area of 1250 square kilometres.


Currently being trialled in New Zealand, users of this service have to install a special dish that can connect them to the nearest balloon. The signal is then passed between the balloons before reaching the user. The internet speed achieved is estimated at being close to 3G, but is susceptible to variations depending on the exact position of all the balloons in the network.


Google hopes that this system will eventually be able to provide wireless internet access to two thirds of the population who are currently without worldwide. Sometechnical developments still need to be made to the Project Loon. Currently, the balloons used need to be topped up with helium every 55 days to keep them afloat, though Google has said that new designs will extend this to over 100 days. Weather systems could also affect coverage and location – air systems will be monitored to help carry the system, but unexpected or extreme weather could affect both parameters.


However, the project is not without its critics. It is debated that people living in less developed countries do not have access to the technology that would enable them to use wireless internet services and that, even if they did, they would not necessarily know how to use it.


So while Project Loon may prove to be a useful technological development for millions of people if it takes off (quite literally), is this really just another way for Google to further extend its data harvesting services? Let us know your views@NotchCom.