|Industry||Internet and telecommunication|
Loon LLC is an Alphabet Inc. subsidiary working on providing Internet access to rural and remote areas. The company uses high-altitude balloons placed in the stratosphere at an altitude of about 18 km (11 mi) to create an aerial wireless network with up to 4G-LTE speeds. It was named Project Loon, since even Google itself found the idea of providing Internet access to the remaining 5 billion population unprecedented and "loony". It may also be a reference to the balloons used. Loon began as a research and development project by X (formerly Google X), but was spun out into a separate company in July 2018.
The balloons are maneuvered by adjusting their altitude in the stratosphere 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. 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.
The balloons use patch antennas – which are directional antennas – to transmit signals to ground stations or LTE users. Some smartphones with Google SIM cards can use Google Internet services. The whole infrastructure is based on LTE; the eNodeB component (the equivalent of the "base station" that talks directly to handsets) is carried in the balloon.
In 2008, Google considered contracting with or acquiring Space Data Corp., a company that sends balloons carrying small base stations about 20 mi (32 km) up in the air for providing connectivity to truckers and oil companies in the southern United States, but didn't do so.
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 June 14, 2013.
On June 16, 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. 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.
In May 2014, Google X laboratories director, 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. This was based on work done by the Access Field Development Director, Kai Wulff who was involved in fiber and broadband roll-outs in Emerging Markets from the early 2000s.
In February 2014, the record streak for a balloon lasting in the stratosphere was 50 days. In Nov 2014, the record was 130 days, and in March 2, 2015, the record for a continuous balloon flight is 187 days (over 6 months).
On July 28, 2015, Google signed an agreement with officials of Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) – Sri Lanka, to launch the technology on a mass scale. As a result, by March 2016, Sri Lanka will be the second country in the world to get full coverage of internet using LTE, after Vatican City.
In February 2016, Google announced to have achieved a stable laser communication connection between two balloons over a distance of 62 miles (100 km). The connection was stable over many hours and during day and nighttime and reached a data rate of 155 Mbit/s.
In May 2017 Spacedata started proceedings for patent infringement, due in court in 2019.
On October 6, 2017, Google filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and cleared it the same day, with authorization to start immediately to provide emergency LTE coverage to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The plan allows 30 balloons to relay communication between ground terminals connected to people's handsets. Google will have to install Over The Air (OTA) updates to allow Band 8 operations and at the end of the authorization, a separate OTA update will disable this operation. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló announced at a press conference on October 8, 2017 the launch of Google's Loon Project on the Caribbean island, following its approval by the FCC.
On October 9, 2017, multiple balloons were spotted near Puerto Rico via Flightradar24. That same month, it was reported that the project had spun off into its own company Loon Inc; however, it was clarified that it still remained as a project at X, until July 2018. On November 9, 2017, it was reported that Google had launched several balloons from Nevada and positioned them over Puerto Rico as part of an effort to bring 100,000 people online.
On July 11, 2018, X, Google's R&D facility, announced that Loon was "graduating", becoming an Alphabet subsidiary in its own right rather than a project of X. As part of its first commercial agreement with Telkom Kenya, Loon has pledged to bring internet access to some of Kenya's most inaccessible regions, to be live in 2019. 
Loon is Alphabet's pursuit to deploy a high-altitude balloon network operating in the stratosphere, at altitudes between 18 km and 25 km. Google asserts that this particular layer of the stratosphere is advantageous because of its relatively low wind speeds (e.g., wind speeds between 5 and 20 mph / 10 to 30 km/h) and minimal turbulence. Moreover, the company claims that it can model, with reasonable accuracy, the seasonal, longitudinal, and latitudinal variations in wind speeds within the 18–25 km stratospheric layer.
Given a reasonably accurate model of wind speeds within the 18–25 km band, Loon claims that it can control the latitudinal and longitudinal position of high-altitude balloons by adjusting only the balloon's altitude. By adjusting the volume and density of the gas (e.g., helium, hydrogen, or another lighter-than-air compound) in the balloon, the balloon's variable buoyancy system is able to control the balloon's altitude. Google has additionally indicated that balloons may be constructed from various materials (e.g., metalized Mylar or BoPET) or a highly flexible latex or rubber material (e.g., chloroprene).
Initially, the balloons communicated using unlicensed 2.4 and 5.8 GHz ISM bands, and Google claims that the setup allows it to deliver "speeds comparable to 3G" to users, but they then switched to LTE with cellular spectrum by cooperating with local telecommunication operators. 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. Google also experimented with laser communication technology to interconnect balloons at high altitude and achieved a data rate of 155 Mbps over a distance of 62 miles (100 km).
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 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.
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. Alphabet 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.
The balloon envelopes used in the project are made by Raven Aerostar, and are composed of polyethylene plastic about 0.076 mm (0.0030 in) thick. The balloons are superpressure balloons filled with helium, standing 15 m (49 ft) across and 12 m (39 ft) tall when fully inflated. They carry a custom air pump system dubbed the "Croce" that pumps in or releases air to ballast the balloon and control its elevation. 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 antennas and a Ubiquiti Networks 'Rocket M2' to communicate with other balloons and with Internet antennas 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. In the case of an unexpected failure, the parachute deploys automatically. When taken out of service, the balloon is guided to an easily reached location, and the helium is vented into the atmosphere. The balloons typically have a maximum life of about 100 days, although Google claims that its tweaked design can enable them to stay aloft for closer to 200 days.
The prototype ground stations use a Ubiquiti Networks 'Rocket M5' radio and a custom patch antenna to connect to the balloons at a height of 20 km (12 mi). Some reports have called Google's project the Google Balloon Internet.
- On May 29, 2014, a Loon balloon crashed into power lines in Washington, United States.
- On June 20, 2014, New Zealand officials briefly scrambled emergency services personnel when a Loon balloon came down.
- In November 2014, a South African farmer found a crashed Loon balloon in the Karoo desert between Strydenburg and Britstown.
- On April 23, 2015, a Loon balloon crashed in a field near Bragg City, Missouri.
- On September 12, 2015, a Loon balloon crashed in the front lawn of a residence on Rancho Hills, Chino Hills, California.
- On February 17, 2016, a Loon balloon crashed in the tea-growing region of Gampola, Sri Lanka while carrying out tests.
- On April 7, 2016, a Loon balloon landed on a farm in Dundee, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
- On April 22, 2016, a Loon balloon crashed in a field in the Ñeembucú Department, Paraguay.
- On August 22, 2016, a Loon balloon landed on a ranch in Formosa, Argentina about 40 km. West of the Capital of Formosa.
- On August 26, 2016, a Loon balloon landed northwest of Madison, South Dakota.
- On January 9, 2017, a Loon Balloon crashed in Sieyic, near Changuinola, Bocas del Toro province, Panama.
- On January 8, 2017 and January 10, 2017, two Loon Balloons landed at 10 km E of Cerro Chato & 40 km NNW of Mariscala, Uruguay.
- On February 17, 2017 a Loon Balloon crashed in Buriti dos Montes, Brazil.
- On March 14, 2017, a Loon Balloon crashed in San Luis, Tolima, Colombia.
- On March 19, 2017, a Loon Balloon crashed in Tacuarembó, Uruguay.
- On August 9, 2017, a Loon Balloon crashed in a reedbed in Olmos, Lambayeque, Peru.
- On December 30, 2017, a Loon Balloon crashed in Nthambiro, Igembe Central, Meru County, Kenya.
Loon has generally been well received, although Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project developers and astronomers have raised concerns that the lower of the two ISM bands that Loon uses (2.4 GHz) will interfere with the mid-band frequency range (0.5 GHz–3 GHz) used in the SKA project.
Alphabet has not yet specified the costs of this project.
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- @DrSalted (9 October 2017). ".@Google 's parent company Alphabet gets FCC approval to fly 30 Project Loon balloons over Puerto Rico & provide LTE coverage. Google's balloons can be tracked via their ADS-B transponders on websites such as @flightradar24 www.flightradar24.com/multiview/f252d5c,f229cff,f2599b6,f25bf29,f25fb17,f26d9de … #GOOGL #PuertoRico #HuracanMaria" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
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- US application 13/346,636, Richard Wayne DeVaul, Eric Teller, Clifford L. Biffle, Josh Weaver; Eric Teller & Clifford L. Biffle et al., "Balloon network with free-space optical communication between super-node balloons and RF communication between super-node and sub-node balloons", published July 11, 2013, assigned to Google Inc.
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- Project Loon: Scaling Up
- Project Loon
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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
- "Project Loon: Raven Aerostar - Google Collaboration". Raven Aerostar. Retrieved June 15, 2013.
- Gartner, Keegan; Ratner, Dan (August 14, 2013). "Ask Away: How do the balloons move up and down?". Google Project Loon. Archived from the original on October 7, 2013. Retrieved October 18, 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
- "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.
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- Kelion, Leo (June 15, 2013). "Google tests balloons to beam internet from near space". BBC News. Retrieved June 21, 2013.
- Jon Brodkin (March 11, 2015). "Google balloons, "cell towers in the sky," can serve 4G to a whole state". Ars Technica. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
- Behroozi, Cyrus. "Ask Away: What's inside the Loon antenna?". Google Project Loon. Archived from the original on October 7, 2013. Retrieved October 18, 2013.
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- Keep Your Eye on the HBAL—Tracking Project Loon Balloons – Flightradar24 Blog
- Lardinois, Frederic. "One of Google's Project Loon balloons crashed into power lines in Washington state". TechCrunch. AOL Inc. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
- Sharwood, Simon (June 20, 2014). "That's no plane wreck, that's a Google Wi-Fi balloon: unplanned splashdown scrambles New Zealand emergency services". The Register. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
- "South African sheep farmer discovers downed Google Loon balloon crashed in Karoo Desert". The Daily Telegraph. November 20, 2014. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
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- "Google's Internet balloon 'crashes' in Sri Lanka test flight". Phys. February 18, 2016. Retrieved March 29, 2016.
- 'Project Loon' Balloon found on farm in KZN
- Globo de Google aterrizó bajo control - Ciencia - ABC Color
- Globo de Google cae a un esteral de Ñeembucú
- Cayó un globo de Google en un campo de las modelos Maglietti
- "Proyecto Loon in Bocas del Toro", La Prensa, January 9, 2017
- Balão do Project Loon cai no interior do Piauí
- Ndung'u, Wainaina. "Google device plunges into a miraa farm in Igembe Central, Meru prompting talk of aliens". The Standard. Retrieved 2018-01-02.
- Richard Chirgwin, Richard (June 17, 2013). "Google launches broadband balloons, radio astronomy frets". The Register. Retrieved June 25, 2013.
- Hall, Brian S. (June 19, 2013). "A Handy Guide To Google's Project Loon". ReadWrite. Say Media Inc. Retrieved October 3, 2013.
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