Google’s New Conglomerate Alphabet’s Quest to Eradicate Disconnectedness Seeks to Connect 4 Billion People Worldwide With Rural Internet Access
In June 2013, thirty balloons were launched from New Zealand into the air for a pilot program to beam down Internet. This test was the precursor to Alphabet’s Project Loon, seeking to provide uninterrupted connectivity to the world’s most remote areas. And after two years of test drives in California’s Central Valley and the McKinley Climactic Laboratory in Florida, the rural Internet access project seems surprisingly feasible.
Now it’s simply a matter of manufacturing the perfect balloon. In their quest, Google turned to an engineer from Gartner’s top-ranked supply chain company, Apple. Maresh Krishnaswamy dove into the search for the ideal materials and suppliers, eventually partnering with Raven Aerostar, a military-grade supplier of high-density poly-ethylene (HDPE) bags.
Fusion best describes the feel of Project Loon’s balloons:
“If you want a glimpse of the near-future, go get a box of Cheerios. Open the box and pull out the bag of cereal. Feel the texture of the bag. Note how hard it is to rip apart. A cereal bag is the closest analog to the material that Google X, the company’s high-risk research lab, uses in its Project Loon balloons.”
The helium-filled balloons are 65 feet in diameter and designed like Russian dolls, with one inside another. Leak prevention was addressed with padded socks. Behavior in the stratosphere was predicted with negative-76 degrees Fahrenheit (-60 degrees Celsius) simulations within an enormous research hangar. After fine tuning, the real task for Google is illustrating how the rural Internet access
project will benefit the developing world.
Loon’s orbs of air will soon be soaring in the stratosphere, providing Internet service to areas in the world that would normally be cost-prohibitive with the use of regular cables or cell towers. With a single balloon at ground level, an area of 25 miles in diameter can be connected. If the airspace over the developing world has enough balloons, countries can be enveloped in LTE-level services.
How will these high-flying Wi-Fi providers change the world for the better?
- Studies in South India and Niger have shown that access to real-time prices can prevent
producers from spending more than they should in developing countries, i.e. price dispersion.
- Connected communities are better united with outside support after natural disasters. For instance, in Rwanda, tests demonstrated that individuals were more likely to transfer resources –airtime– to those affected by severe flooding.
- Similarly, Facebook’s drone company and Connectivity Lab have intentions set on offering the developing world access to cyberspace.
- As of October 2015, Indonesia will mark the fourth country behind Brazil, New Zealand, and Australia in which Loon will fly its balloons more than 12 miles in the sky to beam down Internet access to any LTE-capable smartphone. In Indonesia, merely one of every three residents can use the country’s extremely slow Internet. Project Loon’s goal is to offer download speeds up to 10Mbps to a stretch of 740,000 miles with 17,000 islands.
- Loon has also sought opportunities to work with Sri Lanka, Chile, and Argentina.
Expansion of the pilot will seek to create a ring of Internet availability at latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere for pilot testers and eventually bring over four billion people without web access online. If you would like to partner with Google during their work on rural Internet access technology, they have a sign-up form available on the Project Loon website.