Google is looking to create a way to connect four billion people still without basic internet access to the rest of the world, by utilizing hot-air balloons filled with LTE signals, capable of transmitting up to 20mbps to customers.
This is known internally as Project Loon and is one of the many Google X Labs projects currently being worked on, in conjunction with Google’s acquisition of SkyBox Imaging and $1 billion investment in SpaceX for low-orbit satellites.
Google understands the commercial benefit of having four billion new people on the internet, but is also focused on making internet a human right, rather than a luxury, and no matter where you are the internet should be affordable and available.
The balloons are capable of global deployment and Google’s current tests show over 100 days for each balloon, while in the early days the team would struggle to keep the balloons in the air for more than five. The amount of innovation in the past two years to make the balloons more reliable and the internet faster are huge in the context of potential internet access in remote areas.
Essentially the balloon is made of one part helium to get it in the air, and one part air to reduce the height. Google can remotely control the balloon by moving with the wind and changing the levels of air inside the balloon, allowing it to map a course for each balloon.
Having a fleet of balloons constantly circling the world is the end goal, meaning vast remote areas in places like Africa, Asia and even Europe always have internet connectivity of some kind. Google could rent the space to local carriers for a cheap price, and also look towards setting up its own wireless network in the country.
Google is still a few years from true commercialization of the balloons, but these new advancements in testing mean in a few years Google could be the major provider of remote access to internet, a lucrative market Facebook and other internet companies are fighting to win.