When Google first announced its ambitions to unveil Loon, the project that uses hot air balloons to deliver broadband and wireless services to rural or emergency prone areas, it seemed like a foolish fanatical idea. But four years later, Project Loon is starting to look lot less crazy.
On Monday, the company’s ‘floating cell towers in the sky’ are capable of staying up in the air for up to six months and Google envisions its efforts eventually turning into a business that could make more than $10 million of revenue a year, suggests The Verge.
This morning, in front of top mobile executives from around the world, Google’s Sundar Pichai laid out a renewed pitch for Project Loon. “[It] started about four years ago as an experimental idea. When you think about it, it sounds a bit crazy,” Pichai admitted. But they’ve made “huge progress,” he says, dramatically increasing their data speeds and coverage area. The early models last only a few days; the goal for commercial viability was to have them floating for three months. “Today we are excited to announce most of our balloons stay up for as long as six months,” says Pichai.
Loon is built with the daring goal of beaming internet access down to the most remote parts of the planet, using the specially equipped balloons that brushes the upper edges of the Earth’s atmosphere. The recent test makes a new record and proves the balloon can withstand pressure of about 1200 pascal. As it moves past the technical hurdles of floating the internet miles above the planet, Loon is poised to enter uncharted territory – building the actual business.
Google will partner with telecom companies, beaming their LTE services to places they don’t usually reach, via the balloons. That save the companies millions from having to build out their own infrastructure like cell towers or fiber optic cables to reach remote areas.
It is already running tests with telcos like Vodafone in New Zealand, Telstra in Australia and Telfonica in Latin America and is also working on deals with other network providers. The company will split the revenue from any new customers with the telecommunications company providing the LTE spectrum.
But Facebook’s Mr Zuckerberg was less enthused when asked about Mr Pichai’s projects and its successes at the same conference later that day. He dismissed Google’s attempt to use balloons to reach rural population as ‘fringe’ technology that draws attention away from the ‘real’ world.