Project Loon

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Project Loon
Mission statement Balloon-powered Internet for everyone
Commercial? Yes
Type of project Internet and telecommunication
Location Worldwide
A Project Loon balloon at the Christchurch launch event

Project Loon is a research and development project being developed by Google with the mission of providing Internet access to rural and remote areas. The project uses high-altitude balloons placed in the stratosphere at an altitude of about 20 mi (32 km) to create an aerial wireless network with up to 3G-like speeds.[1][2][3][4] Because of the project's seemingly outlandish mission goals, Google dubbed it "Project Loon".[5]

The balloons are maneuvered by adjusting their altitude to float to a wind layer after identifying the wind layer with the desired speed and direction using wind data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Users of the service connect to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna attached to their building. The signal travels through the balloon network from balloon to balloon, then to a ground-based station connected to an Internet service provider (ISP), then onto the global Internet. The system aims to bring Internet access to remote and rural areas poorly served by existing provisions, and to improve communication during natural disasters to affected regions.[5][6] Key people involved in the project include Rich DeVaul, chief technical architect, who is also an expert on wearable technology; Mike Cassidy, a project leader; and Cyrus Behroozi, a networking and telecommunication lead.[1]


In 2008, Google had considered contracting with or acquiring Space Data Corp., a company that sends balloons carrying small base stations about 20 miles (32 km) up in the air for providing connectivity to truckers and oil companies in the southern United States, but didn't do so.[7]

Unofficial development on the project began in 2011 under incubation in Google X with a series of trial runs in California's Central Valley. The project was officially announced as a Google project on 14 June 2013.[1]

On 16 June 2013, Google began a pilot experiment in New Zealand where about 30 balloons were launched in coordination with the Civil Aviation Authority from the Tekapo area in the South Island. About 50 local users in and around Christchurch and the Canterbury Region tested connections to the aerial network using special antennas.[1] After this initial trial, Google plans on sending up 300 balloons around the world at the 40th parallel south that would provide coverage to New Zealand, Australia, Chile, and Argentina. Google hopes to eventually have thousands of balloons flying in the stratosphere.[1][2]

In May 2014 Astro Teller announced that rather than negotiate a section of bandwidth that was free for them worldwide they would instead become a temporary base station that could be leased by the mobile operators of the country it was crossing over.

In May-June 2014 Google tested its balloon-powered internet access venture in Piauí, Brazil, marking its first LTE experiments and launch near the equator.[8]


The technology designed in the project could allow countries to avoid using expensive fiber cable that would have to be installed underground to allow users to connect to the Internet. Google feels this will greatly increase Internet usage in developing countries in regions such as Africa and Southeast Asia that can't afford to lay underground fiber cable.[9]

The high-altitude polyethylene balloons fly around the world on the prevailing winds (mostly in a direction parallel with lines of latitude, i.e. east or west). Solar panels about the size of a card table that are just below the free-flying balloons generate enough electricity in four hours to power the transmitter for a day and beam down the Internet signal to ground stations. These ground stations are spaced about 100 km (62 mi) apart, or two balloon hops, and bounce the signal to other relay balloons that send the signal back down. This makes Internet access available to anyone in the world who has a receiver and is within range of a balloon.[9] Currently, the balloons communicate using unlicensed 2.4 and 5.8 GHz ISM bands,[10] and Google claims that the setup allows it to deliver "speeds comparable to 3G" to users. It is unclear how technologies that rely on short communications times (low latency pings), such as VoIP, might need to be modified to work in an environment similar to mobile phones where the signal may have to relay through multiple balloons before reaching the wider Internet.[11][12]

The first person to connect to the "Google Balloon Internet" after the initial test balloons were launched into the stratosphere was a farmer in the town of Leeston, New Zealand, who was one of 50 people in the area around Christchurch who agreed to be a pilot tester for Project Loon. The New Zealand farmer lived in a rural location that couldn't get broadband access to the Internet, and had used a satellite Internet service in 2009, but found that he sometimes had to pay over $1000 per month for the service. The locals knew nothing about the secret project other than its ability to deliver Internet connectivity; but allowed project workers to attach a basketball-sized receiver resembling a giant bright-red party balloon to an outside wall of their property in order to connect to the network.[9][13]

The high-altitude balloons fly twice as high as airplanes, but below the range of satellites.[2] Each balloon provides Internet service in a 20 km (12 mi) radius covering an area of about 1,256 km2 (485 sq mi).[9][14]


A Project Loon research balloon

The balloon envelopes used in the project are made by Raven Aerostar,[15] and are composed of polyethylene plastic about 3 mil or 0.076 mm (0.0030 in) thick. The balloons are superpressure balloons filled with helium, stand 15 m (49 ft) across and 12 m (39 ft) tall when fully inflated, and carry a custom air pump system dubbed the "Croce"[16] that pumps in or releases air to ballast the balloon and control its elevation.[1] A small box weighing 10 kg (22 lb) containing each balloon's electronic equipment hangs underneath the inflated envelope. This box contains circuit boards that control the system, radio antennae and a Ubiquiti Networks Rocket M2[17] to communicate with other balloons and with Internet antennae on the ground, and batteries to store solar power so the balloons can operate during the night. Each balloon’s electronics are powered by an array of solar panels that sit between the envelope and the hardware. In full sun, the panels produce 100 watts of power, which is sufficient to keep the unit running while also charging a battery for use at night. A parachute attached to the top of the envelope allows for a controlled descent and landing when a balloon is ready to be taken out of service.[10] In the case of an unexpected failure, the parachute deploys automatically.[18] The balloons typically have a maximum life of about 55 days, although Google claims that its tweaked design can enable them to stay aloft for more than 100 days.[11]

The prototype ground stations use a Ubiquiti Networks Rocket M5[17] radio and a custom patch antenna[19] to connect to the balloons beaming down the Internet when the balloons are in a 20 km (12 mi) radius.[6] Some reports have called Google's project the Google Balloon Internet.[2][20][21]


Project Loon has generally been well received, although concerns about signal interference were raised by Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project developers and astronomers who worry that the lower end of the two ISM bands that Loon uses (2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz) will interfere with the mid-band frequency range (0.5 GHz-3 GHz) used in the SKA project.[22]

Google has not yet specified the costs of this project.[23]

Bill Gates questioned the usefulness of the project for the poorest of countries: "When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you. When a kid gets diarrhea, no, there’s no website that relieves that. Certainly I’m a huge believer in the digital revolution. And connecting up primary-health-care centers, connecting up schools, those are good things. But no, those are not, for the really low-income countries, unless you directly say we’re going to do something about malaria. "[24]

New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key delivered a speech at the launch event in Christchurch stating that the Internet is important for New Zealand to help it globally distribute what it produces in a low cost way as the next 4 billion people come online; Key also acknowledged the potential of utilizing Loon for disaster recovery.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Levy, Steven (14 June 2013). "How Google Will Use High-Flying Balloons to Deliver Internet to the Hinterlands". Wired. Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Google to beam Internet from balloons". Agence France-Presse. Google. 15 June 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  3. ^ "Google launches Project Loon". The New Zealand Herald. 15 June 2013. Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  4. ^ Lardinois, Frederic (14 June 2013). "Google X Announces Project Loon: Balloon-Powered Internet For Rural, Remote And Underserved Areas". TechCrunch. Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Mack, Eric (14 June 2013). "Meet Google's 'Project Loon:' Balloon-powered 'net access". CNET. Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Brodkin, Jon (14 June 2013). "Google flies Internet balloons in stratosphere for a “network in the sky”". ArsTechnica. Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  7. ^ Sharma, Amol (20 February 2008). "Floating a New Idea For Going Wireless, Parachute Included". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  8. ^ The Next Web: Google celebrates Project Loon’s birthday with first LTE experiments and launch near the equator
  9. ^ a b c d Perry, Nick; Mendoza, Martha (15 June 2013). "Google launches Internet-beaming balloons". The Associated Press. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  10. ^ a b "How Loon Works". Google. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  11. ^ a b Hodson, Hal (18 June 2013). "Google's Project Loon to float the internet on balloons". New Scientist. Retrieved 20 June 2013. 
  12. ^ Misra, Archan; Das, Subir; McAuley, Anthony J. (2001). Hierarchical Mobility Management for VoIP Traffic. Retrieved 17 October 2013. 
  13. ^ Smith, Mac; Heinrich, Mitch; Wasson, Brian (2013-08-23). "Ask Away: How was the antenna casing designed?" (Video). Google Project Loon. Retrieved 18 October 2013. "6s: "The challenge for us, we have this big network of balloons that can provide Internet connectivity to people on the ground, but the people who are getting that service can't actually see the balloons. In fact, the only thing that they see from day to day is the device that's attached to their house." - Mac Smith ... 35s: "so we decided to iterate on the antenna form to make it more balloon-like." - Brian Wasson" 
  14. ^ "Project Loon Provides 3G Speeds!". Google Project Loon. 2013-09-04. Retrieved 17 October 2013. "Each Balloon can provide connectivity to a ground area about 40 km in diameter at speeds comparable to 3G." 
  15. ^ "Project Loon: Raven Aerostar - Google Collaboration". Raven Aerostar. Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  16. ^ Gartner, Keegan; Ratner, Dan (2013-08-14). "Ask Away: How do the balloons move up and down?". Google Project Loon. Retrieved 18 October 2013. "58s into video: We call this air control system "Croce" because our co-worker lead saw the shape of our impeller housing was bottle shaped and started singing "Time in a Bottle" [by] Jim Croce" 
  17. ^ a b "Re: Internet for all". Ubiquiti Networks Community Forum. "I've just been down to talk to the folks from Google, who are here in Christchurch, New Zealand, launching their pilot for Loon. One engineer told me "we use the Ubiquiti Rocket M2 for transceiving, and the M5 for groundstation uplink". He described the downwards-pointing antenna on the ballon, which sounded to me like a UniFi polar map, but on a bigger scale. They have modified the firmware to only work with other modified firmware Rockets." 
  18. ^ Kelion, Leo (15 June 2013). "Google tests balloons to beam internet from near space". BBC News. Retrieved 21 June 2013. 
  19. ^ Behroozi, Cyrus. "Ask Away: What's inside the Loon antenna?". Google Project Loon. Retrieved 18 October 2013. 
  20. ^ "Google's ambitious Internet balloons soar above New Zealand". The Associated Press. CBS News. 15 June 2013. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  21. ^ Mendoza, Martha; Perry, Nick (15 June 2013). "Google begins launching Internet-beaming balloons". The Associated Press. NBCNews. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  22. ^ Richard Chirgwin, Richard (17 June 2013). "Google launches broadband balloons, radio astronomy frets". The Register. Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  23. ^ Hall, Brian S. (19 June 2013). "A Handy Guide To Google's Project Loon". ReadWrite. Say Media Inc. Retrieved 3 October 2013. 
  24. ^ Retrieved 7 February 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  25. ^ Laura Smith-Spark, Laura (15 June 2013). "Up, up and away: Google to launch Wi-Fi balloon experiment". Cable News Network. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 

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