Google has been in the process of developing Internet transmitting balloons and they will soon start testing these in Australia. Some 20 balloons will be launched in the west of Queensland next month. Google has partnered up with Telstra in order to make this project possible.
The company announced plans to use balloons to bring the internet to disconnected areas last year, and after semi-successful trials in New Zealand, Brazil and the States, it’s teaming up with a local carrier (Australia’s Telstra) for the first time to launch Loon’s biggest test flight to date.
The project, which is known as “Project Loon,” is part of a plan by Google to ensure that everybody, even in the most remote parts of the globe, would be able to access the Internet. The balloons will be filled with helium and will use stratospheric winds to circle around the globe. Each balloon is equipped with an antenna that is able to send 4G signals to phones and homes up to 20 kilometers below. In order to test the balloons, Telstra is providing base stations that will allow for communication with the balloons. Additionally, they will allow for access to the radio spectrum.
Tests have already taken place in New Zealand’s Christchurch in June of 2013. Google chose this area because it has excellent stratospheric conditions. The goal is to ensure that a ring of balloons always circles the planet. If successful, two thirds of all people who currently do not have any online access will finally be able to go online. Additionally, the balloons have the potential to provide Internet access to those areas that have been struck by natural disasters. Project Loon has been described very well by Google itself:
Many of us think of the Internet as a global community. But two-thirds of the world’s population does not yet have Internet access. Project Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.
Project Loon was first started in the middle of 2011. Scientists employed by Google X, which is a top secret lab, started working on it. They also developed the driverless cars and Google Glass. The Loon technology is of interest particularly in developing countries because it means that they could access the Internet without having to lay expensive fiber cables underground.
How Does It Work?
First of all, base stations that are connected to the internet bounce signals to the balloons. The balloons are floating on the stratospheric winds, twice as high as what a passenger jet would go. The signals then hop between the different balloons. Each individual balloon also transmits online signals, with each balloon being able to connect an area twice as large as Canberra. The balloons are filled with various on-board gadgets, including solar panels as large as a card table. This allows each balloon to stay in the air for around 100 days. The stratospheric winds, which flow in a westerly direction, should be able to carry a permanent ring of balloons.
It is hoped that the test will be an overwhelming success. It is not know what the next stage will be, or how the 20 balloons will be brought down. Indeed, although there is now significant knowledge about the project itself, a cloud of secrecy still remains over it. The previous tests have been semi-successful, although it is not clear which elements were seen as most successful, or which parts needed rethinking. It seems that Google is still somewhat on the drawing board, and the world is looking anxiously towards new developments.