There have been rumors that Google was working on helping to deploy internet to underserved parts of the world. Not only would this be considered a charitable thing to do and something that would improve the daily lives of people in the areas affected, but it would also help Google expand their TAM of users they could help advertisers reach. So, this would naturally help Google greatly both in terms of PR and it would connect more people to the internet.
Now, Google[x] or Google’s X Lab, today has announced Project Loon which fulfills this rumor that Google would be deploying a network of balloons across underserved areas to give them internet access. The way that Google is able to do this is by putting balloons that float in the stratosphere, which is two times higher than airplanes normally fly. They are carried around the world by the various winds and can be moved back into place by raising them or lowering them based on the needed direction of wind at a certain altitude. This is controlled by a proprietary algorithm which is constantly monitoring the winds and location of the balloon.
People would connect to the internet balloon network using a special internet antenna that connects to their building. The actual signal bounces from balloon to balloon and then to the global internet back on earth. This does potentially introduce quite a bit of latency for users who might want instantaneous results and responsiveness. However, people with no internet have absolutely no idea what to expect, so any kind of connectivity is better than no connectivity. Plus, once they get terrestrial internet deployments, there’s a chance they’ll appreciate the improvements they gain from their investment.
Plus, each balloon can provide connectivity to an area about 40km in diameter at speeds comparable to current 3G networks, which is nothing to scoff at. For the balloon to balloon and balloon to ground communications, the balloons use radio frequency technology, and not satellite uplinks/downlinks. Project Loon currently uses ISM bands (2.4 and 5.8 GHz) for their communications, which would normally be problematic in developed areas, but in places with no plethora of wireless devices and routers, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Google is going to be testing this technology out in the eastern parts of New Zealand as a beta, but I have a feeling that Google’s ultimate goal is to deploy such technology in Africa and the Middle East among many other underserved areas.