After launching in New Zealand last year, Project Loon – Google’s plan to bring the internet to the world using the power of balloons – is coming to Australia, with the search engine goliath teaming up with Telstra to put 20 net-providing balloons over western Queensland next month.
According to The Verge, Google will use Telstra’s base stations and part of the telco’s 2.6GHz spectrum to provide internet from balloons floating approximately 20 kilometres above the Earth’s surface. Each balloon can provide the internet to approximately 40 square kilometres using LTE – a 4G wireless standard – and a balloon is expected to last 100 days.
Ultimately Google hope to have an entire fleet of balloons in the stratosphere providing internet coverage to the world, with a focus on the two-thirds of the planet’s population who don’t have internet access.
Project Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters.
With a focus on rural and remote areas, as well as assisting in the aftermath of disasters, Australia certainly ticks Loon’s boxes.
Balloon movements are obviously subject to the wind, and Google plan to use complex algorithms to take advantage of this to ensure their balloons are able to provide complete coverage.
In the stratosphere, there are many layers of wind, and each layer of wind varies in direction and speed. Loon balloons go where they’re needed by rising or descending into a layer of wind blowing in the desired direction of travel.
Each balloon is made from polyethylene plastic and when fully inflated the balloons are 15 metres across, and 12 metres tall. Hanging from the balloon, where there would ordinarily be the basket, are the electronics required to provide internet coverage. The technology is powered by solar panels attached to the ‘basket’, and solar-powered batteries ensure it continues to function at night.
When a balloon reaches the end of its 100-day lifespan it descends back to Earth, and has a parachute on-board in case the descent isn’t controlled. Google say they are committed to reclaiming all returned balloons, and that the balloons are entirely recyclable.