Google's plan for balloon-powered internet

Melissa T Zisengwe

Google's experimental Project Loon, launched in July, is a bold step providing internet access to the rural and remote areas using low orbiting balloons. So far from the experiments they have carried out one balloon can provide connectivity to an area about 40km in diameter at speeds as good as 3G. 

Balloons are carried at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes. Users are connected to the balloons through a special internal antenna attached to the buildings.

Project Loon has been received with high enthusiasm.

Rhodes University Computer Science lecturer Yusuf Motara thinks it will work. 

“It is an ambitious project but it will work as it is technically feasible” Motara said.

Google believes it has found a way of providing internet access to those that lack internet access. The experiments carried out have been successful so far, the first was in New Zealand where 30 balloons were released into the air. Results were very good.

The Director of Product Management at Google, Michael Cassidy said he believes that Google would be able to build a ring of balloons flying around the globe on the stratospheric winds that provide internet access to the earth.

He admits that the project sounds ambitious and a bit crazy but that is one of the reasons why they are calling it Project Loon. He also added that there is some solid science behind the project. Many projects have tried looking for ways to provide internet via high-altitude platforms and have been unsuccessful but Project Loon is doing it differently.

“Our starting point was to free the balloons from any tethering, letting them sail on the winds, while figuring out how to control their path through the sky. We've now found a way to do that, using just wind and solar power, we can move them up and down to catch the wind” Cassidy said.

According to the website two of three people in the world do not have access to the internet and Project Loon aims to provide internet to the whole world by 2020. Google has plans to expand groups of pilot countries to others that have similar latitude such as South Africa, Chile and Australia.

According to Google South Africa, Country Director, Luke McKend if Project Loon is successful, it could be an affordable, scalable way to help address the digital divide in South Africa.

"Internet access could boost economic development and job creation,” McKend said.

Since Project Loon is a project to provide internet access to the rural and remote areas, if successful it will be implemented around South Africa and this will help develop South Africa more especially places such as Grahamstown where unemployment is very high and many do not have access to the internet.

The project is still in its early stages however if successful and implemented people have to take advantage of it. “Providing internet access is Project Loon’s goal and it is irrelevant whether people take advantage or not to the goal of Loon” said Motara. Project is step forward and there is no technical reason it should not work.

The project was created by Google X division. 

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)

Read more contributions from citizen journalists, and contribute your own!