Internet access is taken for granted by the millions who have it. Sprawling urban areas and concrete jungles don’t often have any issue establishing good Internet connectivity; remote, rural areas are a different story altogether, however. Google aims to fix this discrepancy using an ambitious scheme, called Project Loon. But, how does Google plan to improve the Internet access in these areas? By deploying a series of balloons, of course.
Chief Technical Architect of Project Loon, Rich DeVaul, ponders over the conundrum of how to bring more people into this new age of Internet access:
“Many people don’t realize this, but the majority of the world is not connected to the Internet. How do we get cost effective, inexpensive and reliable connectivity to the remaining five or six billion people in the world, who don’t have it?”
Google plans to implement a network of balloons, approximately 15 meters in diameter, which float around the Earth at high altitudes (20 km from the planet’s surface). The hope is that these balloons can act as relays, receiving data from local Internet service providers and bouncing it onward to residents in isolated areas, where access is ordinarily difficult to achieve.
In terms of movement, the balloons will harness the directional winds within the Earth’s stratosphere. By moving the balloon between different layers of the stratosphere, a particular balloon’s movement may be fine-tuned and coordinated to regions where its activity is required.
The device is powered by a series of solar panels, which captures energy from the sun’s rays, and enables a slight degree of control over movement. Directionality is monitored and controlled by a team on the ground, operating in “Loon Control.”
Google is requesting citizens of Central Valley, California, volunteer their homes to test Project Loon’s newfangled technology. An antenna dish, which looks an awfully lot like a boxing glove, is deployed to one of the external walls of the volunteer’s home and is capable of receiving transmissions from their local Internet service provider, indirectly through use of these circulating balloons.
A given antenna will communicate with an overlying balloon, situated up in the stratosphere. This balloon will then “talk” to each of its neighboring balloons and remotely interface with a ground station, which is hooked up to the local Internet service provider.
The balloons’ internal components have been specifically designed to filter out extraneous signal, to ensure the highest bandwidth possible is acquired. This is especially important, as the contraptions are likely to receive considerable network traffic over long distances.
It is thought that this high-flying network of balloons could help spread cost-effective Internet to impoverished regions and might act as a substitute for areas devastated by natural disasters. It could also promote businesses, provide weather data and warnings to farmers and, in countries where it remains difficult to speak to a medical practitioner, its offers the sick and infirm the ability to conference online appointments.
Google’s latest pilot scheme will yield invaluable information, regarding balloon movement and the effectiveness and strength of the resulting Internet connections. This will inform Google on how to refine their technology and balloon models to, hopefully, make their proposed network a reality, as well as a worldwide success. So, with the deployment of Project Loon’s balloons, it seems the Internet is destined to be rolled out to the farthest reaches of the Earth. Here’s hoping the team makes a success of their impressive plans.
By: James Fenner