Google plans to partner with mobile operators to make its Project Loon initiative — in which solar-powered transmitters attached to helium balloons are being tested for their potential to provide internet access to the developing world — into a reality.
Speaking at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York, Astro Teller, who oversees the Google X team behind Loon, said the plan is for Google to lease the balloons to operators as they pass over the regions in which they operate.
Teller said his team spent six months negotiating with “large companies” to buy harmonised spectrum before Loon’s launch, but Google CEO Larry Page rejected this approach, leading the team to decide to use spectrum already owned by mobile operators.
The approach means Google won’t have to licence spectrum and Project Loon will have access to a greater amount of spectrum bandwidth than if separate spectrum had been licensed.
For operators it means spectrum in rural areas could be used more effectively with the Loon balloons filling gaps in coverage. In addition, operators won’t feel that the web giant is trying to steal their customers.
Recent reports suggested Google is testing LTE for use with Loon, something that would make sense if it was working with operators.
Google recently agreed to acquire Titan Aerospace, a start-up developing solar-powered drones, in a move that could boost future efforts to spread internet access around the world.
Titan’s expertise is likely to feed into Project Loon as well as the Makani project, which is developing an airborne wind turbine for generating electricity.
Facebook was reportedly in discussions with Titan but instead opted to pay $20 million for UK-based Ascenta, which is working on similar technology.
The social network recently unveiled its Connectivity Lab which is working to bring internet access to emerging markets through the use of “new platforms for connectivity on the ground, in the air and in orbit”.