LIVE FROM HUAWEI’S GLOBAL MOBILE BROADBAND FORUM 2014, SHANGHAI: Google claims its Project Loon initiative – using helium-filled balloons to provide internet connectivity to unconnected regions – should not be regarded by the mobile industry as a threat to its existing business model, as operators such as Telefonica, Telstra and Vodafone test the technology ahead of Google’s planned commercial launch in 2016.
“This is not about disruption but I do urge you to do better and faster and urge you to think differently,” Mohammad Gawdat, VP of Google’s X division, told delegates here yesterday. “Loon isn’t disruptive – this is outside the infrastructure you are currently building. Billions of people don’t have access to the internet.”
In the week that it was reported Australian operator Telstra is to test 20 balloons carrying solar-powered transmitters that will beam LTE signals to home and phones 20 km below (with Telstra providing the base stations to communicate with the balloons), Gawdat claims that the global initiative has around 80 total balloons in the air at any one time and is launching 10 new balloons every week.
The project switched from using WiFi technology to LTE in October last year and claims to now deliver speeds of 22 Mb/s per balloon, giving “direct-to-device connections of 5 Mb/s.”
The average lifetime for an active balloon is 85 days, but Google is aiming to improve this to 120 days.
The first trials last year – with balloons flying from Brazil to Argentina – only flew for 8 days and were connected via WiFi.
Of course, this is a hugely complex initiative and Gawdat spoke of the challenges of “getting the balloons to form a mesh of towers 40km from one another and to go where you want it to.”
Despite the challenges, the Google X man said the company plans to launch Project Loon commercially in 2016, “covering every square inch of the planet.”
“That’s a very different proposition to what [fellow event speaker] Tele2 defines as full coverage,” he quipped. “We think that connectivity should be this way.”