Late in 2014, CheapInternet.com ran an article about three competing plans to bring inexpensive internet to the world. Facebook, Tesla’s Elon Musk, and Google developed wildly different plans designed to solve the same problem. When it came to Google Loon, we said, “Balloons? Really? Could this be the craziest, wackiest cheap internet plan of the three?”
According to DSLreports.com, the geniuses at Google are making huge strides toward completion of that system.
Here’s how Google described Project Loon back then:
“Project Loon balloons float in the stratosphere, twice as high as airplanes and the weather. In the stratosphere, there are many layers of wind, and each layer of wind varies in direction and speed. Loon balloons go where they’re needed by rising or descending into a layer of wind blowing in the desired direction of travel. People can connect to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna attached to their building. The signal bounces from this antenna up to the balloon network, and then down to the global Internet on Earth.”
As envisioned, Project Loon’s balloons, 49-feet in diameter, will float approximately 12 miles above the ground on the 40th parallel. A series of ground base stations will be built about sixty miles apart and communicate with the balloons via solar-powered radio transmitters. But the craziest part — or the most ingenious, depending on your point of view — is that Google expects to steer the balloons using winds found at that altitude.
Now Google says Loon is ready for a much larger test. It says it is “moving from small scale, one-off launches and tests, to the scale and automation required to make balloon-powered Internet for all a reality.”
Early critics scoffed at the concept and said Loon’s balloon network would return to earth or drift off course within a matter of days. But DSLreports.com says Google has already proven them wrong “by keeping its balloons in the air for hundreds of days over thousands of kilometers.”
“We’re getting close to the point where can roll out thousands of balloons,” reported Loon Project Lead Mike Cassidy. “In the beginning, it was all we could do to launch one balloon a day, now with our automated crane system, we can launch dozens of balloons a day, for every crane we have.”
Google has a history of making skeptics eat their words. But despite Cassidy’s confidence, the notoriously-secretive company has not yet revealed when it expects to “launch” the product to customers.
Will Google Loon be another of Google’s efforts to bring free or cheap internet to the world? No one really knows.
But if we had to, we’d guess that Loon will end up being good news for low-income Americans who are forced to live with expensive internet, or with no internet at all.