Google claims its Project Loon initiative is on track to provide a realistic alternative to traditional mobile networks in unconnected regions of the world.
Loon is an ambitious project that attempts to use helium-filled balloons to provide internet connectivity, and has so far been tested by operators such as Telefonica, Telstra and Vodafone.
In a new promo video (see below), Mike Cassidy, project lead for Loon, claims the company has overcome initial challenges that saw the balloons develop leaks and return to ground in as little as a few hours.
“We’ve flown in the tropics, we’ve flown in the artic regions. The technology is working, we are getting close to the point where we can bring the internet to people around the world,” he claimed.
Cassidy said its latest balloons last over 100 days and support data rates (via LTE) that are 10x faster than at initial launch.
And the production process is much quicker too: “At first it would take us three to four days to tape together a balloon. Today, through our own manufacturing facility, the automated system can get a balloon produced in just a few hours … we are getting close to the point where we can roll out thousands of balloons.
“In the beginning it was all we could do to launch one balloon a day. Now with our automated crane system we can launch dozens of balloons a day for every crane we have.”
While there is still a fair amount of cynicism about just how well a series of balloons floating around the stratosphere can provide internet connectivity to the two-thirds of the world’s population that remain unconnected, it seems that mobile operators are intrigued by the potential.
“Ultimately the goal of any internet service provider is to have 100 per cent geographic coverage and all the capacity and speed that people expect. Project Loon will help deliver that,” said Vodafone New Zealand’s Tony Baird in the video.
Last year Mobile World Live reported on how Google is eyeing a 2016 timeframe for commercial launch of Project Loon services.