The balloon network is back

Jun 17, 2013

Balloons MK I went the way of all things with the deflation of the LEO/MEO (low/medium earth orbit) satellite bubble which presumably stimulated the balloon idea in the first place - why go into space when you might just about get away with floating your transponders in the stratosphere? Why indeed?

Now, rather in the manner of someone telling a self-depricating joke before someone else tells it more cruelly, Google has come out with Project Loon... a crazy idea to extend broadband everywhere that might just work.

The idea comes from Google[x], Google's secretive laboratory, and involves launching a ring (or more) of balloons designed to float about 20 miles up (well above commercial airliners, says Google) in the stratosphere.

It's cold, it's windy, but those winds are remarkably consistent which means that by raising or lowering the balloons' altitude Google should be able to affect some rough navigation to get them into a patchwork above under-served broadband areas of the world (ie, just about all of it). The groundstations use fixed antennae (no funny cell phones).

Google appears to be talking about deploying WiFi technology (or something close to it). As well as serving as mobile cellular stations, the balloon-borne transmitters would be able to pass data between them and then down to an earth station within the geography of the served area.

The Google blog is keen to point out that the balloon network idea is still highly experimental and will presumably take years to reach fruition, if at all. A first experiment is being carried out over New Zealand's Canterbury province.

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