One of Google’s more fanciful bandwidth projects is nearing the runway. Project Loon, which depending on who you ask is named after the water bird with the eerie call or simply a crazy person, has made some significant strides forward.
The idea of offering LTE access from balloons wafting through the stratosphere over the parts of the world that would otherwise have no coverage at all has always been an interesting one. Not practical, perhaps, but definitely interesting. Now Google says it has worked out a few more of the kinks, specifically around the quick production of balloons that last for a reasonably long time.
Google now can produce a balloon in a few hours and launch dozens per day, with a lifetime of several months. That’s definitely an important piece of the puzzle, but it seems to me that the harder part will be actually operating a network out of these things that anyone will want to use. After all, it’s not the communications technology that is the hard part here, but the buoyancy, durability, and control. The thing about towers and fiber is that the weather may affect performance at times, but it doesn’t actually move the infrastructure around.
Actually, the hardest part will surely be making money off any of this, but one gets the feeling that direct financial benefit wasn’t one of the primary drivers here anyway. I suspect that as usual, Google is primarily aiming to light a fire under others by showing that it can be done and thus increase the size of the internet pie they already have such a big marketshare of. They’ll then hope to enable service providers in these actual regions to implement it, and if nobody does then they’ll cherry-pick a showcase market (see Kansas City) and threaten to take on more incumbents.
Whether it will be a bluff this time is another question entirely.
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