The Loon Project to provide Internet access in rural and remote areas using helium balloons with a small communication system that works with solar energy, located in the stratosphere at a height of about 20 kilometers, to create a wireless network aerial with LTE technology (3G or 4G) available in most phones achieving coverage of 80 kilometers in diameter. Balloons travel around the earth guided by an algorithm that analyzes wind currents.
Google started the project on June 17, 2013 with a pilot program in New Zealand, where 12 balloons that operated with solar panels were launched into the stratosphere, allowing the propagation of the Internet signal. Later another 30 of 15 meters in diameter were launched to provide Internet connection by broadcasting WiFi signals that are received by means of an antenna the size of a basketball.
Since then, tests have been conducted in Brazil and Australia, in 2014, and several other tests in South Africa between 2014 and 2016. That year, Google Loon signed an agreement with the Government of Sri Lanka and later with that of Indonesia to bring total coverage to the country.
In all these years, the advances have been spectacular. The navigation technology of the balloons has managed to direct them through 10,000 kilometers and leave them at 500 meters from their target; the position, which was reported once a day, now does it several times per hour.
The duration of the balloons has gone from eight days to more than 100 and they have built a self-launching device that inflates, elevates and launches a balloon in less than 30 minutes.
Until now, its most spectacular and necessary use has been at the end of 2017 after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. In October 2017, Google received approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch 30 balloons from Nevada to reestablish communication on the island, which was literally incommunicado and in the dark.
According to the company, in February 2018 more than 200,000 people had access to the Internet using Google’s balloons.
The technological and operational complexity of Loon demands a patience that seems like Google does not have. In June, using its artificial intelligence capabilities, launched in Colombia My Line, a traditional telephone line that can be called from any device regardless of whether it is an analog, a smartphone or even a landline.
Simply dial a certain number from anywhere in the country and say our question aloud, immediately the Google Assistant will interpret our request and respond it out loud. As if we were asking the search engine on our screen.
According to Jeremy Landis, executive director of Cainkade Studio, a company that technologically supports Google in the project, since the launch of My Line in Beta in May 2018, 35,000 calls to Google Assistant have been made via My Line.
The acceptance of a service in which, being in a remote community and without access to many of the things that we take for granted, an unknown voice responds to a question that is important to you remains to be seen. But technology is making its way into communities that are very young and eager to use them.
These have not been the only projects. Another of Google’s attempts to provide universal access was through the purchase of Titan Aeroespace in 2014 to create a fleet of solar-powered drones, capable of flying more than a week while taking pictures of the surface and providing access to Internet to remote places.
The company sold Titan Aeroespace in early 2017 as, according to Jacquelyn Miller, spokesperson for the company: “After testing, Project Loon has proved to be much more technically and economically viable to reach the rural world and remote geography.”
It was the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, who first declared the purchase of Titan Aerospace at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in 2014.
According to him, “it is vital for the whole of society that the Network reaches all corners.” But in the end it was Google that acquired the company.
Also Microsoft is in it, in mid-2017 the US technology multinational, presented a new project through which plans to take the Internet to remote places making use of radio frequencies.
The project known as Wireless Regional Area Network (WRAN) uses the digital connection of some televisions, the so-called blank spaces of television channels, to receive and distribute signal to the different devices that connect to it.
For its operation, 600 MHz frequencies are required that were used in the US to broadcast the analogue television signal and that nowadays, with the use of digital platforms, are abandoned. According to the company, this frequency has enough power to be used to provide a stable internet connection.
“Microsoft is working with partners around the world to develop technologies and business models that will make Internet access easier for billions of people,” said Paul Garnett, director of Accessible Access Initiatives at Microsoft.
On a smaller scale, as can be read in the article Telemedicine reaches the Amazon jungle , the TUCAN3G pilot program, led by the Spanish foundation Ehas, in consortium with 10 other European and Latin American partners, has been able to demonstrate how to replace the satellite connection Through long distance WiFi, mobile operators can be established and offer telephony and Internet services to isolated rural communities in the Amazon basin in an innovative and profitable way.
In the platform 5 Apps that revolutionize life in the most remote areas , it shows how connectivity and access to the Internet is key in the development of peoples, both in communications and in making possible the provision of such disparate services and products as financial products or solar lamps for payment in installments or the provision of key information for business. The Internet is a resource that contributes decisively to social and economic development.
At this moment, the only form of connection in certain places is via satellite with devices at prices designed for our pocket, but not for the communities that inhabit those areas.
It is appreciated that a company like Google invest in providing universal Internet access, and for the most suspicious, for that you have to be within your business line and make money with it. Without the expected economic profitability, the sustainability of the project would be questioned, and probably would have stopped its astronomical investment in balloons.