The Business Times

Alphabet's 'Loon' internet plan closer to deployment

Published Thu, Feb 16, 2017 · 11:21 PM
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[MOUNTAIN VIEW, United States] Google parent Alphabet said on Thursday it was closer to deployment of Project Loon's internet balloons to serve remote regions of the world, after achieving a breakthrough in its navigation software.

"Out timelines are starting to move up on how we can do more for the world sooner," said Astro Teller, who heads the team at the Alphabet unit X, in charge of "moonshot" projects of the technology giant.

"We are looking to move quickly, but to move thoughtfully," Mr Teller told a small group of reporters inside a former Silicon Valley shopping centre transformed into a "moonshot factory." The acceleration was credited to software leaps to allow internet-serving balloons to ride high-altitude winds to navigate to the ideal location.

"We've been working to make the balloons smarter; almost like a game of chess with the winds," Mr Teller said.

He expected Loon to be partnering in coming months with telecom companies to provide internet to "real users," in a step up from tests done to see how well the high-floating technology works with networks on the ground, Mr Teller declined to specify where Loon might first be integrated into telecommunications networks providing service to customers.

"We are not going to all of a sudden be everywhere," Mr Teller said.

"We intend to be part of an ecosystem - in any country where we are doing testing we would work with a local telco." Part of the money-making vision for Loon would be to get revenue from telecom operators for extending their reach.

Mr Teller said Loon is one of the more mature projects at X and that it "would be a natural state to graduate into its own company" but there were not plans at the moment for that to happen.

The peek inside X lab and word of speedy progress came the same day that the venture to beam the internet to remote areas of the world via balloon has hit a legal snag in Sri Lanka that could see the project abandoned on the island.

Project Loon uses roaming balloons to beam internet coverage and planned to connect Sri Lanka's 21 million people to the web, even those in remote connectivity black spots.

But just a year after testing began in Sri Lanka regulators have been unable to allocate Google a radio frequency for the airborne venture without breaching international regulations.

The first public launch of Loon took place in New Zealand in 2013, when the project was in an early experimental phase.


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